Esther Rantzen and Bel Mooney debate whether the over-70s should have to keep self-isolating

Should over-70s keep self-isolating? Two powerful voices, two opposing views:

Yes: It shows Britain cares and is trying to protect us – Esther Rantzen, 79 

When it comes to attacking ageism, and defending older people’s rights, I defy anyone to have a record more militant than mine.

I can't understand why the over-70s are complaining about the lockdown, writes ESTHER RANTZEN

I can't understand why the over-70s are complaining about the lockdown, writes ESTHER RANTZEN

I can’t understand why the over-70s are complaining about the lockdown, writes ESTHER RANTZEN

Over the years I have signed petitions demanding better treatment for pensioners, drawn attention to the loneliness of isolated elderly people, and even taken on my one-time employer, the mighty BBC, over plans to scrap free licences for the elderly.

To be honest, I’ve whinged on so much on behalf of older people that I’ve even bored myself at times. 

But right now, when the whole world is in crisis, I simply cannot understand the clamour from some grumpy oldies, 70-plus like me, who are complaining about being locked down longer than anyone else.

Don’t they realise that it’s proof that we are valued, that the nation is trying to protect us and keep us safe? 

Why on earth are they complaining? Surely by our age they should have more sense.

Yes of course there is currently a rampant ageism against old people. But it’s not the Government to blame, nor the health professionals, it’s this vile virus itself. 

Tragically, this illness has culled the frail elderly in our care homes, hospitals and throughout our communities.

It’s been obvious from the moment we first heard of Covid-19 that, while many of the young get away with a comparatively mild version of the virus, for us old people it is all too often agonising and lethal.

I am incredibly lucky, because I am one of the ‘active elderly’, as we are known. 

There are thousands of us, busy as little old bees, helping with childcare, keeping charities going, proving that we are still useful at our advanced age.

Tragically, this illness has culled the frail elderly in our care homes, hospitals and throughout our communities

Tragically, this illness has culled the frail elderly in our care homes, hospitals and throughout our communities

Tragically, this illness has culled the frail elderly in our care homes, hospitals and throughout our communities 

But even so, this pandemic has targeted us and thousands of us have been mown down. Hence the health experts decided that we should be ‘shielded’.

I have actually locked myself down since March 14, and done so gratefully and obediently.

Not that it’s easy for any of us to distance ourselves and stay at home day after day.

Callers to our Silver Line helpline, most of whom have lived isolated and alone for years, point out that this pandemic has taught the rest of the world what isolation really feels like.

It’s heartbreaking. Like all grandmothers, I desperately miss the hugs and cuddles from my five grandchildren, who are aged two to seven.

Those of us who are privileged and had treats to look forward to have had to clear our diaries completely, perhaps for the whole year.

My 80th birthday was due to be celebrated in June in various merry ways, with children on bouncy castles, and grown-ups eating at The Ivy. Not any more, all cancelled.

My son had invited me to his wedding in August, and I was looking forward to a fabulous party. 

Now it looks as if it’ll be a trip to a beach for him and his lovely partner, or a quietly formal process in a register office.

But I’m not complaining. How can I, when the whole country is making far bigger sacrifices to try to save lives – and with businesses going bust and young people on the breadline, can we oldies really claim to be hard done by?

Just imagine if our Government had decided differently. 

Suppose they had quietly resolved to let the virus do its worse and allow the illness to rampage through all the irritating oldies who, according to the ageist calumnies aren’t much use to society anyway.

After all, they might callously argue, the country would be much better off without them.

When lockdown is eased for the rest of the nation, they might say to us pensioners, out you come, no worries. 

And we would either be killed off in our droves or struggle for life in hospital wards, using up all the spare capacity in ICUs and ventilators. Surely this isn’t really what we want?

We must look to my generation's new poster boy, Colonel Tom Moore, who has raised £33million for the NHS by walking round his garden

We must look to my generation's new poster boy, Colonel Tom Moore, who has raised £33million for the NHS by walking round his garden

We must look to my generation’s new poster boy, Colonel Tom Moore, who has raised £33million for the NHS by walking round his garden

It is precisely because we are such a stoical generation – many of us having lived through war, rationing and all manner of national crises – that we must now show the snowflake generation how tough we really are.

We need to stop complaining. During our extended lockdown we must use our time well.

We must look to my generation’s new poster boy, Colonel Tom Moore, who has raised £33million for the NHS by walking round his garden. 

His wonderful daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore said she always knew he was ‘a gem’ but has been astounded by his efforts.

Well, let’s all astound our children and grandchildren with our determination not to make them anxious by risking our own health and safety by breaking the lockdown.

Now’s the time for us to behave so well, so uncomplainingly, that when we emerge safely – as we pray we will – our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will say, this was our finest hour.

NO: Why should I be treated like a prisoner in my own home? – Bel Mooney, 73

Sometimes I feel I’m a character in a cartoon, banging my head against a wall until the stars whirl around and my eyes turn into catherine wheels. 

And all the while I’m screaming ‘Lemme out!’ like a prisoner frogmarched down to the cells.

The red mist descended when I heard the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (a man I have admired since the beginning of this crisis) pronounce that over-70s like me may well face a continuation of lockdown until… when was it? 

The end of the year? Or might it be this-year-next-year-sometime-never?

Sometimes I feel I'm a character in a cartoon, banging my head against a wall until the stars whirl around and my eyes turn into catherine wheels, writes BEL MOONEY

Sometimes I feel I'm a character in a cartoon, banging my head against a wall until the stars whirl around and my eyes turn into catherine wheels, writes BEL MOONEY

Sometimes I feel I’m a character in a cartoon, banging my head against a wall until the stars whirl around and my eyes turn into catherine wheels, writes BEL MOONEY

Who knows? The one thing I am sure of is that no government can possibly consider locking up a whole generation until it finally decrees they can go out.

Law-abiding, upright citizens and supporters of the NHS we may all be, but there comes a point when you cry: ‘Enough!’ And the British Medical Association agrees with me, saying age alone should not be the criteria for this blanket ban.

Let me explain that I’m not opposed to the lockdown. 

In fact, I decided to self-isolate even before we were all told to – because I have a history of asthma and became afraid. I also love being at home and my routine as a writer has not changed. 

Family life is another matter but, like most people, I’ve accepted the situation and saw nothing but sense in the Government’s lockdown strategy.

Yes, the sight of grandchildren standing outside their grandparents’ windows was sad and the thought of people not being allowed to have proper funerals was disturbing, but it seemed to be the price we had to pay. 

The red mist descended when I heard the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (a man I have admired since the beginning of this crisis) pronounce that over-70s like me may well face a continuation of lockdown until… when was it? The end of the year? Or might it be this-year-next-year-sometime-never?

The red mist descended when I heard the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (a man I have admired since the beginning of this crisis) pronounce that over-70s like me may well face a continuation of lockdown until… when was it? The end of the year? Or might it be this-year-next-year-sometime-never?

The red mist descended when I heard the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (a man I have admired since the beginning of this crisis) pronounce that over-70s like me may well face a continuation of lockdown until… when was it? The end of the year? Or might it be this-year-next-year-sometime-never?

And if Boris tells us all that we still have to be patient, then that’s fine. But if my generation were to be segregated, then it’s not.

When this crisis began we were told to lock ourselves down to protect the NHS, and we obeyed. But when you conclude that the orders are unacceptable both to your reason and your emotional intelligence, then you will rebel.

There’s much talk about ‘the science’, as if it were holy writ and not a number of different opinions. 

But I have my own ‘science’, which used to be called ‘mother wit’. This is when instinct and sense unite to tell you what’s right and wrong.

For a start, lumping people together according to age is clearly absurd. I am slim, fit and healthy. 

For 15 years I did pilates and a gym session once a week. 

Though I currently have a bad hip which has put paid to more strenuous forms of exercise for the time being, I continue to do stretching exercises and I still feel very healthy.

Intellectually, I cannot accept that I am more at risk than an overweight man of (say) 45 who has eaten so many burgers and fries in his life his heart is crying out for mercy.

We over-70s are much more responsible than some of the younger generations. Pictured: A care worker tending to an elderly man in his home

We over-70s are much more responsible than some of the younger generations. Pictured: A care worker tending to an elderly man in his home

We over-70s are much more responsible than some of the younger generations. Pictured: A care worker tending to an elderly man in his home

Why should that man be allowed out of lockdown, while I had to stay at home? It would make no sense at all. 

And when people’s common sense cries out ‘absurd!’ the whole consensus starts to fall apart.

Human beings are sociable creatures – we love to meet up with family and friends, or pass the time of day with people we meet. 

For those of us who are older, contact with other people is all the more essential. Loneliness is a modern scourge – we cannot all be expected to isolate ourselves indefinitely.

Every week since this lockdown began I have received heartbreaking letters from those over-70s unable to see their families and vice versa.

Our mental wellbeing is as important as our physical health, and to allow everyone else to be reunited with their loved ones, while our elderly remain alone would be nothing short of cruel.

I think a turning point for me came when I was admonished by a total stranger for leaving the house to take my parents – who are 98 and nearly 96 – food. 

‘Your son should have done it,’ she sniffed.

Honestly, it was a busy-body intervention too far! 

In what universe am I not going to drive for 15 minutes to see if my parents are OK, take them a hot meal and cheer them up a little by chatting from a responsible distance away on their front path?

That’s what I mean by emotional intelligence. It improves with age. We over-70s are much more responsible than some of the younger generations. 

We can be trusted to know what’s best for ourselves and our families.

Over the past few weeks we have all shared fear, sadness, irritation and some unexpected emotional uplift too.

But the current situation will not last forever. Britain has to get moving again. 

Though there will be risks, my generation has a valuable part to play in the rebuilding of all our lives.

And we will do it. Out in the world, not in prison. 

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