Veteran Sheffield politician David Blunkett says coronavirus panic risks 'stigmatising’ the elderly

Veteran Sheffield politician David Blunkett has said calling on older people to self-isolate during the coronavirus crisis risks stigmatising the elderly.

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 11:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 4:02 pm

On Saturday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock advised everyone aged 70 to self-isolate for four months to protect themselves from the deadly virus.

However, writing in the Daily Mail, Baron Blunkett - who is 72 - said this risks over-reacting and could cause problems just as dangerous as the one it purports to solve.

He said: “All that would achieve is to consign a particular cohort to misery.

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Lord David Blunkett.

“Depression arising out of isolation and loneliness must not be underestimated in our communities.

“Deterioration of our mental health and wellbeing would be compounded because of the isolation.

“Surely, the more active we are, the more healthy we are and if we are less active we will deteriorate both physically and mentally.”

Mr Blunkett said he saw parallels between the coronavirus crisis and the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

He said a committee he chaired in the wake of the atrocities tried to strike a balance between keeping people safe and protecting people’s human rights, arguing that was the approach needed today.

He said: “To urge everyone over 70 to stay indoors regardless of their health, is to my mind a dangerous over-reaction – the wrong thing done for the right reasons.

“All it would do is divide society on grounds of age – and that is as wrong as separating people because of their race or gender.

“Surely we oldies should have the right to choose our own destiny. We understand the risks. We know there are higher mortality rates from this virus among the elderly.

“I have real concerns that imposing isolation on the over-70s could be widely misunderstood in the current atmosphere of near panic.

“Let us calm the nation down, and do what we preached back in 2001 – be alert but not alarmed. Use common sense.

“That is how we faced terrorism and that is how we should meet coronavirus.”

David Blunkett was MP for Sheffield Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough between 1987 and 2010, and also served as Education and Home Secretary.