News Item

Respect older people’s rights when exiting the COVID-19 pandemic

Old woman with a facemask looking out a window
Solarisys ©, 2020
Many older people in care homes fell victim to COVID-19. Many also faced months of isolation and restrictions often harsher than those enforced for other parts of the population. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) looks at how the pandemic affected the rights of older people. It highlights the need for a rights-based approach as governments shape their exit strategies.

“Everyone has the same rights, no matter how old they are,” stressed FRA director, Michael O’Flaherty. “As we transition to the ‘new normal’, governments must pay special attention to the needs of older people and ensure they are treated equally. Only then, will older people be able to regain their lives in dignity and respect.

FRA’s third Coronavirus pandemic in the EU: fundamental rights implications looks at the measures EU Member States took to address the pandemic between 1 May – 31 May 2020. This edition focuses on the impact on older people.

While governments aim to protect the most vulnerable in our societies, some COVID-19 measures raise concerns about the rights of older people:

  • Right to life – the death rate among older people was much higher than among other age groups – particularly in institutional settings, which serves to underline the vulnerability and need for close monitoring of older people in such settings.
  • Access to healthcare – as national healthcare systems came under pressure, doctors were forced to decide who to treat. In some EU countries, authorities or healthcare bodies issued guidance suggesting a patient’s age as a criterion for prioritising treatment.
  • Lack of testing – testing of care home residents and staff was lacking. By the end of May, testing was planned or underway only in a third of EU countries.
  • Stricter restrictions – many EU countries had stricter rules for older people than for the general population. At the same time, all countries introduced specific measures to help older people access services or use public transport.
  • Isolation – lack of social contacts took a toll on the physical and mental well-being of older people. Many local initiatives supported people in care homes.
  • Healthcare delays – many countries suspended non-urgent treatments, which affected many older people who have existing health conditions requiring treatment. 

EU countries need better data to understand how the pandemic affected older people to help them make evidence-based decisions for the future.

As our societies reopen, governments should take care of the needs of older people as the passage to the ‘new normal’ will likely be slower and more difficult for them.

The bulletin also looks at other fundamental rights implications of government measures to fight the pandemic:

  • states of emergency;
  • measures to contain the virus and mitigate its impact on social life, education, work, the justice system and travel to and within the EU;
  • the impact of the virus on other vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, detainees, homeless people and victims of domestic violence.

FRA will continue to monitor the situation and publish regular updates, drawing on evidence collected across all EU countries.