[Statement] on the Simple Application of Chronological Age as Basis for Policy Response Against COVID-19 -Com. Karen Gomez-Dumpit, CHR

Commissioner Karen S. Gomez-Dumpit, (Focal Commissioner on Aging and the Rights of Older Persons) on the Simple Application of Chronological Age as Basis for Policy Response Against COVID-19

We appeal to the national government to reconsider the simple application of chronological age as a criteria for the restriction of movement under the general community quarantine scheme. In particular, this policy prohibits older people, or those aged 60 years and above, from going outside their homes in moderate- and low-risk areas for COVID-19.

The older population is a heterogeneous group and the risks they face vary depending on different, sometimes compounded, factors such as their physical health (existence of comorbidity), the socio-economic conditions they are in, their living arrangements, and dependency on care. Not all older people have pre-existing health conditions and have poor health that makes them vulnerable to being severely infected with the novel coronavirus. It is important to note that not all older people live with family members whom they can rely on for food and other essential needs. A policy solely based on old age runs the risk of disproportionately discriminating older people who need to go outside their homes for essential activities, including work and the procurement of basic goods and services, and those who live alone or with other older family members.
A potentially discriminatory policy based solely on age should have no room in health crisis responses, especially when the right to life, health, and an adequate standard of living is at risk. We need human rights- and evidence-based approach to dealing with this crisis, which takes into consideration the diversity of the needs of older people in different situations.

We recommend the relaxation of the rules in the general community quarantine scheme where older people should not be “prohibited,” but only “discouraged” from going outside their homes. This not only respects the autonomy of older people to decide for their own, but it would also protect them from the punitive aspects of the enforcement of the community quarantine.

We recognize the importance of law enforcement in order to contain and stem the spread of this virus. However, it is important to discern the most appropriate response that does not disregard or overlook the particular needs of different sectors, especially the marginalized.

Further, instead of one-sided policies that shift the full responsibility to contain the virus to the citizens, we urge the national government and local government units to intensify the implementation of positive measures that will enable the disadvantaged members of society to comply with quarantine rules. For older persons, this includes the speedy distribution of social pension and other cash- and non-cash based assistance for basic necessities while maintaining physical distancing, and the engagement of communities to aid older people in need of any type of assistance and care.

With this, we renew our commitment to work with the national government and local government units and to continue doing our role as the country’s national human rights institution of the country as we move forward in this fight against COVID-19.

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