Coronavirus has affected all aspects of our lives. We have all been affected by the virus and the unprecedented restrictions we have needed to put in place to slow its spread and protect all of us.
We know that some people are at an increased risk of serious illness if they are exposed to coronavirus and, as we learn more about the virus, we know that some parts of society and some communities, are disproportionately affected.
We are providing increased support to care homes, for example, including regular supplies of personal protective equipment and advice about hygiene and cleaning, because we know that older people, especially those with existing health issues, are at greater risk. We have updated our testing policy for care home residents and staff, based on the latest scientific evidence.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics, published last week, suggest that around a quarter of people who have died from coronavirus in Wales were resident in a care home. This is an incredibly sad situation and I can understand how difficult this has been for families and people working in the care sector.
And we have also provided targeted advice for people over 70 who are considered to be at-risk – they are advised to strictly follow the social distancing rules and advice about handwashing and hand hygiene to protect themselves when they leave their homes. We have not issued a blanket ban on older people going out.
Older people are not automatically included in the ‘shielded’ group – this is based on specific conditions, which make people extremely vulnerable to serious illness if exposed to coronavirus. The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has written to more than 120,000 people in Wales, advising them to adopt strict shielding measures until 15 June.
I have met the Ministerial Advisory Forum on Ageing to hear their concerns about the pandemic and whether measures to keep older people safe could lead to an increase in stereotypes linking ageing to vulnerability and decline. This is not our intention.
Human rights and equality legislation provides a framework to ensure everyone is treated with fairness, equality, dignity, respect and autonomy. We comply with our legal obligations to protect and uphold the rights of everyone in Wales.
Independent research has been commissioned to explore how the Welsh Government can further strengthen equality and human rights and we are working closely with the team leading on the research to make sure it can continue as we respond to this pandemic.
By valuing the contributions older people make to society we will reject ageism. I am clear age does not diminish an individual’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
As we move beyond the pandemic, the Welsh Government will continue its work on the Strategy for an Ageing Society. It will take a rights-based approach to promote equality and social justice across a range of policy areas and place the older person’s voice at the heart of policy making.
This will be more relevant as we work to consider how and when restrictions can be safely eased. I will continue to take advice from the Ministerial Advisory Forum on Ageing to ensure older people have a voice in shaping the decisions that affect them.
Over recent weeks, the coronavirus has prevented many older people from continuing their usual volunteering, work or caring roles. For the first time many of us are accepting help from our local communities. I hope these new relationships will be sustained for years to come and help to build mutual respect and solidarity between generations.
It is vital that we work together to create a more equal society that upholds human rights and enables people of all ages to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstance.