An MP who claimed she was “not allowed to say” that few healthy under-60s die of coronavirus has provoked public fury and been accused of peddling a “dangerous narrative”.
Lucy Allan, MP for Telford in Shropshire, shared an article from The Telegraph revealing Covid-19 had killed fewer people aged 0 to 59 with no underlying health conditions than had died on the roads within the same age bracket in a year.
She wrote: “But we knew this right? [...] We are just not allowed to say it.”
But her own constituents, many of whom are over 60 or have so-called underlying health conditions (a marker used by the NHS to divide up Covid death stats) feel she is insinuating that their lives matter less.
People living in Telford told HuffPost UK her words spoke volumes, effectively implying the relatively narrow metric of healthy under-60s was more significant than the much higher death toll among the general population. Millions of people have so-called “underlying health conditions”, which can include common illnesses such as asthma, as well as mental health diagnoses.
“It makes you feel written off and totally worthless,” said Alex Smith, 47, who has asthma and lives in Telford with her husband and two children.
“She is saying we don’t count. Why should I bother getting up in the morning if I’m not counted and my life doesn’t matter?”
Allan told HuffPost UK that “every death” was a “tragedy for the family left behind”, and insisted that “all lives are of equal value” – but did not apologise for her comments.
Smith has had asthma since childhood and uses an inhaler daily as well as taking medication. She ends up on antibiotics at least twice a year due to bronchitis-style infections.
During the first lockdown, she had to take extra precautions as her husband was going out to work as a tyre fitter and her daughter was still going to college. “I was practically living in a separate room trying to shield myself,” she said.
“You become very isolated and people don’t realise how it impacts your mental health to completely lock yourself away.”
Smith was angered by Allan’s remarks. “It's very cold-hearted and smacks of eugenics,” she said. “It's a bit like the film Logan’s Run where people were killed when they reached the age of 30 before they became a drain on society.
“It feels like this is exactly what people like Lucy Allan are saying – get rid of the elderly and anyone with underlying health conditions.”
Smith’s 68-year-old aunt was diagnosed with Covid-19 just days ago. “My aunt still works full-time and even though she is 68, she is very active,” she said. “She pays her taxes and contributes to society. Why is she seen as a lesser person in the eyes of people like Lucy Allan?”
Amrik Jhawar, 72, is mayor of the borough of Telford and Wrekin and a Labour councillor. He told HuffPost UK that “every life is precious” and described Lucy Allan’s words as “unfortunate”.
“I don’t know what she was thinking,” he said.
“People in positions of authority such as MPs have to be very careful how they conduct themselves and about what they say.
“The danger is when you try comparing one thing to another like she has done, it can give a false impression.”
Jhawar, whose wife is also over 70, had three children; his eldest daughter died of breast cancer 10 years ago. The couple also have four grandchildren and he says they have been following the coronavirus rules to protect themselves and others.
“We have only been going shopping for necessities and have been wearing masks. I have done some mayoral appointments, but they have been mainly online. The few I have done in person, I have worn a mask and followed social distancing rules.”
Jhawar told HuffPost UK that any suggestion that the lives of those who are older or have pre-existing health conditions are any less valid than healthy people is completely wrong.
“Life is sacred and everybody is important,” he said. “Age does not matter and if someone has an underlying health condition, their life is still very important. They just have to be extra careful to protect themselves against coronavirus.
“I hope Lucy Allan’s remarks don’t have a negative impact and that the community in Telford and everyone in the UK carries on following the coronavirus rules as we have to control this virus.”
He added: “No one’s life is any less important whether they are at home, in hospital or in a care home.”
Bryony Thomas grew up near Telford and has numerous family members living there battling health conditions, as well as an elderly grandmother who has lived in Telford all her life.
She says Allan’s hurtful comments are a “slap in the face” to her family who have spent the majority of this year shielding and made many sacrifices.
“My father turned 60 this year and is diabetic. My sister-in-law is in her 30s and has chronic asthma and a history of bronchitis and had her first baby in lockdown and didn’t leave the home for the last three months of her pregnancy.
“My grandmother is 88 and has been incredibly isolated during this pandemic as she lives on her own.
“The MP’s implication that their safety doesn’t matter and that people shouldn’t be following the lockdown feels really hurtful and dangerous.”
Thomas says the illnesses and underlying conditions Allan is referring to are “very treatable” and people can live very long and healthy lives with things like asthma and diabetes.
“It is extremely worrying when you get people in positions of power pushing this kind of narrative,” she said.
“Lucy Allan represents the whole community, including those over 60 and those with health conditions – not just people who are younger or lucky enough not to have pre-existing conditions.
“I feel irritated and infuriated by what she has said and feels she needs to come out and tell people to take the restrictions seriously.
“But I don’t see how she can do that in a sincere way which will be taken seriously after making such damaging remarks.”
When HuffPost UK approached Allan, and told her about the anger and hurt caused to her constituents in Telford, she defended her comments and the sharing of the news article comparing Covid deaths with road deaths.
“Every death from every illness or disease is a tragedy for the family left behind,” she said.
“Covid is a very real risk to all our elderly parents and family members and it’s right we do all we can to shield those most at risk from this virus. This sadly means families being kept apart from elderly loved ones throughout this pandemic.
“All lives are of equal value. The article in The Telegraph makes the point that some people are at much greater risk from Covid than others.
“Those under 60 who are healthy have a much lower risk profile if exposed to Covid and are more at risk from other factors.
“It’s important they know this so they do not experience fear and anxiety unnecessarily.
“Covid is a killer virus for some, but not all.”