Chief State Sanitary Doctor of Ukraine Viktor Liashko tells the media about possible coronavirus quarantine restrictions based on age: “We want to recommend setting specific hours for seniors. Encourage retail businesses, pharmacies and other stores to introduce special periods of time, for example, from 10:00 to 12:00, so that we all understand that this is the time for people aged 60 years and older.” How lawful is this?
The rapid spread of coronavirus infection in Ukraine and around the world is forcing authorities to look for alternative solutions to reduce the number of those infected. This leads to increased quarantine restrictions, and, as a consequence, restrictions on certain rights and freedoms. To date, the authorities consider the possibility of introducing special hours of visiting shops and pharmacies for citizens aged 60 years and older, who are the most vulnerable group as most deaths occur in this category of people. The authorities consider the possibility of setting a few hours a day during which the elderly can buy medicines and food. But are such measures really necessary, and won’t they constitute age discrimination? Let’s try to answer these questions.
“Pursuant to Article 24 of the Constitution of Ukraine, all citizens, regardless of age, have equal rights and freedoms. Also, in accordance with Article 64, the rights and freedoms of a citizen cannot be restricted, except in certain cases (imposition of a state of emergency or martial law). At present, there is no state of emergency or martial law in Ukraine. Therefore, such a decision can only be of a recommendatory nature. Otherwise, the restriction on the right to movement may result in other threats, for example, when the elderly will not be able to exercise their property and other rights to the same extent as citizens of other ages. That is, unequal conditions of access to material goods are created,” Viktor Filatov, an analyst at the SICH Human Rights Group, comments.
What aim is pursued by the state? In this case, to protect the elderly from the risk of falling ill. As a reminder, this is only a recommendation to business entities, not an order. So, the owners of shops and stores themselves will decide on the time limits for the elderly.
What does it mean? The authorities transfer the right to make a final decision to the entities themselves. The latter, of course, will not be in a hurry to follow such recommendations as they are interested in making a profit. A logical question also arises: won’t such novelties be a restriction on the rights of entrepreneurs to freedom of activity because, in fact, the state can influence the sales of products or medicines. A situation may happen when entrepreneurs will go to court to sue for unlawfulness of such a decision. The recommendations do not take into account that many people over 60 years still have a job and will not be able to visit shops and pharmacies during working hours. However, the European experience shows that such restrictions are possible.
“Similar experience is already being used in the UK, Norway, Austria, Germany, Italy, Canada and some other European countries. There, supermarket chains are instructed by the authorities to introduce special shopping hours for retirees. In such a way they try to decrease the rate of contacts in this category of people with other buyers. Moreover, the retail chains themselves urge other buyers to refrain from shopping at this time, so that older people can safely buy everything they need. As a rule, such hours are set immediately after a store opens, and the elderly can buy everything they need with minimal risk of getting infected. However, this only applies to stores. As for pharmacies, for example, an elderly person may get ill at any time of the day, as well as a person belonging to other age groups. That is why, it is inexpedient to introduce time-based restrictions in this particular case,” Viktor Filatov believes.
Summing up, we would like to add that the governments of European countries, in addition to time restrictions, introduce many convenient e-services for the elderly, compensating for the restrictions on certain rights. That is, they minimise the negative consequences of the introduction of a special legal quarantine regime. Ukrainian authorities should keep this in mind as an effective policy to combat coronavirus infection consists not only of coercion and restrictions but also of service support and additional social guarantees. Therefore, instead of restricting access to offline services, the state should expand and enhance access to online services for the elderly.