COVID-19: Older persons’ rights must be equally protected during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic poses distinct threats to the equal enjoyment of human rights by older persons. Thanks to the evidence collected from our member organisations and external experts, we publish a report of our main human rights concerns for older people. We are particularly concerned by the situation of older persons living in institutions, the lack of support for older people who receive care in the community and the risk of isolation of older people living alone.
Read our updated report:
COVID-19 and the human rights of older persons
(latest update: 18th May 2020)
As the situation changes rapidly, we will be regularly updating both our report and this webpage. An earlier version of this report (1st April 2020) can be found at the end of this webpage. In the most recent paper, updates are highlighted in blue fonts.
We all have equal rights, regardless of age
Older persons have the same rights as others,
and these must be equally protected during the pandemic
In the context of public health emergencies, as is the case of COVID-19, restrictions on some rights, like freedom of assembly, can be justified in order to contain the spread of the virus. However, these restrictions need to be proportionate, strictly necessary, limited in time and applied in a non-discriminatory way.
Our key recommendations
- Measures taken as a response to COVID-19 must be necessary, limited in time, proportionate and non-discriminatory.
- Chronological age should not be used for the allocation of goods and services and should not be a criterion for determining people’s vulnerabilities, prognosis, or treatment options.
- While protecting everyone’s human rights, States are required to take special measures to ensure protection from discrimination, prevention of abuse, inclusion and access to essential services for people in vulnerable situations, such as those living in institutions, those living alone, people receiving care in the community, people at risk of digital exclusion and people at risk of experiencing neglect and abuse.
- Availability of health and social care staff should be reinforced, to ensure continuity of care.
- Adequate support and safety protection must be guaranteed for formal and informal caregivers as well as for people in need of care.
- Information must be transparent and fully accessible, including to people that can be digitally excluded or experiencing cognitive difficulties.
- Older persons must have an equal say in public debate, to be consulted regarding planned measures and to contribute to efforts for post COVID-19 recovery.
Right to health
Everyone’s right to health is at risk during the pandemic. Therefore, extraordinary safety measures, like quarantine and physical distancing, are necessary. Because older persons are at higher risk of serious complications due to COVID-19, targeted action will be needed.
Whereas some older persons will have comorbidities that impact their chance of surviving intensive medical intervention, age alone should never be a criterion for medical triage.
Protocols based on non-medical criteria such as age or disability, deny persons their right to health and life on an equal basis with others.
Discrimination, hate speech and stigma
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 we have witnessed an unprecedented amount of ageist comments in the media. Hate speech must not be tolerated on whatever ground.
Even though older persons are in a vulnerable situation during the pandemic, stigmatizing them as frail, passive or a burden is a breach of their inherent dignity. Older persons are valued and valuable members of our societies.
Measures taken as a response to COVID-19 must not undermine older people’s autonomy, dignity and equal worth as human beings.
Older people in need of care
Older persons in need of support may be left unattended due to measures of physical distancing and shortage of care workers due to the pandemic. During the quarantine, the continuity of essential services must be guaranteed.
Failure to deliver necessary assistance during the crisis amounts to a breach of human rights.
Additional support for the social and domiciliary care workforce is needed, including measures for their protection during the pandemic.
Older people in residential care
Older people in residential care facilities are at a higher risk for adverse outcome and for infection due to living in close proximity to others and underlying comorbidities.
In several countries people living in institutions do not even have access to necessary diagnostic and medical care. Reports of abandoned or even dead older persons in care institutions are unacceptable.
People in institutions should have access to medical, social and palliative care on an equal basis with the general population.
Special attention must be given to balancing the need for safety and protection and the risk of social isolation, by gradually allowing the possibility of visits to people living in care homes. Public support should be available to help residential facilities cope with COVID-19 related costs and the shortage of care workers during the pandemic. Authorities need to take all appropriate measures to prevent the risk of isolation, neglect and degrading treatment in institutions.
Older people living alone
Older people who live alone are at higher risk of isolation and lack of access to necessary goods and services during the pandemic. Older women, who constitute the majority of the oldest old, are disproportionately affected.
Physical distancing should not lead to social isolation.
States must take additional social protection measures so that support reaches those who are at most risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis.
Whilst digital social networking is now being widely used to communicate during the current lockdown, many older people do not have equal access to digital media. Government and local support is required to help digitally excluded people have access to available technology.
These are some of the main human rights challenges faced by older persons during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more detailed information, you may read our full analysis here.
To contribute to our work, please contact: Nena Georgantzi, Human Rights Coordinator, email@example.com
To know more about COVID-19 and older persons, visit our dedicated page: COVID-19
To access the earlier version of our paper on human rights of older persons and COVID-19, click here (also available in French, German and Catalan).
- European Commission:
- Open letter (8 April) to National Governments calling to draw attention on vulnerable groups by EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli together with EU Commissioner for Jobs & Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit and the EU Commission for Health & Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides
- Factsheet (2 April) - COVID-19 and Older Persons by EU Commissioner for Equality
- United Nations:
- Statement (11 May) - Support to the UN Secretary General's Policy Brief on The Impact of COVID-19 on Older Persons by 146 Member States support the UN Secretary General Policy Brief
- Statement (1 May) - Our response to COVID-19 must respect the rights and dignity of older people and Policy Brief - The Impact of COVID-19 on older people by UN Secretary General
- Statement (20 April) - The impact of COVID-19 on Older People by the UN Member States part of the Group of Friends of Older Persons in the UN
- Statement (6 April) - COVID-19 pandemic and economic, social and cultural rights by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Statement (27 March) - "Unacceptable" - UN expert urges better protection of older persons by Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons
- Statement (26 March) - No exceptions with COVID-19: “Everyone has the right to life-saving interventions” by several UN Human Rights experts
- Recomendaciones generales para la atencion a personas mayores desde una perspectiva de derechos humanos by UN CEPAL
- Council of Europe:
- European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI):
- Statement (6 May) - The EU must put economic & social rights at the heart of its economic response
- Database - National Human Rights Institutions' responses to the impact of COVID-19
- Checklist - How can NHRIs cooperate with older people's organisations to protect their rights
- Webinar - Tips and tricks for NHRIs focusing on older persons’ rights
- European Network of Equality Bodies (Equinet):
- European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA):
- Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (GAROP):
- Human Rights Watch: