Medical expert warns against treating over-70s differently when easing lockdown

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A medical expert has warned against treating age groups differently when easing lockdown measures.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s scientific advisory group Sage, said he does not support giving different rules to over-70s, who are considered a clinically vulnerable group by the Government.

It comes after NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said on Friday that officials will be studying whether stricter measures will or will not have to continue to apply to the elderly when restrictions are relaxed.

Sir Jeremy, who is also director of the Wellcome Trust research charity, has warned this risked treating members of society differently to one another.

“I personally would not be in favour of that.”

He said people in high-risk groups, which includes certain ages, should take “special precautions”, adding: “But I would not be in favour of isolating certain age groups and saying ‘you’re special and you’re different and you need to act differently’.”

Sir Jeremy believed easing lockdown needed to be seen as a societal issue and suggested a ramping-up of testing.

“We need to protect the vulnerable, we need to have the clinical care and look after health care workers,” he added.

“We need to test, test, test and isolate those who are positive.”

His comments come after the British Medical Association described excluding any section of the population from lockdown easing based on age as “discriminatory”.

Prof Powis said at Friday’s Downing Street briefing: “The over-70s can be absolutely fit and healthy, it’s not the case that everybody over 70 has a chronic health condition or underlying disease.

“As we look forward … I think it’s a perfectly reasonable question to say how would that work in age groups and age bands?

“Although we do know that complications and, unfortunately, deaths are more common in the elderly even without complications, I think that’s for consideration and that’s work that we will need to do as we move forward.”

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock dismissed reports that all people over 70 face a “blanket ban”.

On Twitter, he said: “We have strongly advised all over 70s to follow social distancing measures.

“However, there is no ‘blanket ban’, and the suggestion that the clinically vulnerable include ‘people aged 70 or older regardless of medical conditions’ is wrong and deeply misleading.”

The Government website states people aged over 70 are “clinically vulnerable” regardless of medical conditions and are advised to “take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household”.

A further group who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, due to specific serious health conditions, are advised to stay at home and avoid all contact with others, except for essential medical treatment or support.

The Department of Health and Social Care said over-70s “are not included in the most at-risk group (extremely clinically vulnerable), who have been told to isolate for 12 weeks”.

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