Confusing message on isolation for over-70s causing anxiety, charity warns

Conflicting advice around what it will mean for people over 70 to potentially have to isolate for months, amid concerns over coronavirus, is causing anxiety, and clear guidance must be given soon, a charity has warned.

The Government is being urged to say exactly what its policy for the elderly will be as the Covid-19 pandemic worsens in the UK, amid confused messages from different officials.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave little detail when he said on Sunday that people aged 70 and older could have to isolate for four months in order to protect themselves from the virus, admitting it would be “a very big ask”.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has since suggested people isolating will still be able to walk their dogs, and Scotland’s national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch went further, saying it would be more about reducing social contact and that family visits would not be “cut off”.

The differing advice is a cause for confusion and concern for older people and their families, Simon Hewett-Avison, director of services at the Independent Age charity said.

He told the PA news agency: “If this is all they’re seeing, this conflicting advice, opinion and guidance, it’s understandable that people are going to feel anxious and worried and not really understand what it is that they’re supposed to be doing to look after themselves, and also look after people around them.”

He said a “much greater level of detail” is needed about what isolation will actually mean.

He said: “I’m hearing all sorts going round at the school gate, on social media, from ‘I can’t go in my garden’, the next person says ‘I can’, can you walk your dog? What happens when you don’t see anyone, is that OK?

“There’s all this speculation around what actually isolation means and we’ve got differing opinions across the UK as well, from Scotland to England, in terms of the difference in advice given there, so we definitely need greater clarity in terms of what self isolation means, or what it could mean.”

He said charities and organisations focused on helping older people are trying their best to prepare people but need proper guidance from the Government, and welcomed the daily briefings being held from Monday.

“Charities like ours and others across the sector are relying on that centralised communication to support the people we work with,” he said.

“There is a lot of opinion out there through the media and social media, and I think we really need to start seeing this clear, consistent, regular update from the Government, from the NHS, from Public Health England and public health bodies, so that we are clear and confident ourselves in what we’re recommending.”

Mr Hewett-Avison also called for a clear explanation as to why 70 is being used as a cut-off point for potential isolation.

He said: “There’s a lot of difference between a 70-year-old and a 90-year-old.

“We wouldn’t treat a 20-year-old and a 40-year-old in the same way. So there needs to be some nuance there, we need to understand what that messaging is there for and why it is there to protect.”

Research done by the charity shows more than half of over-65s they have spoken to feel anxious and worried about how coronavirus might affect their lives, he said.

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