What are my human rights in relation to COVID-19?

This article has been created using excerpts from the Human Rights Commission website and is related specifically to older people. You’ll find further information related to general human rights, as well as for people with disabilities and those in detention for example, on its website.

Even in times of crisis, people have human rights that safeguard their dignity. Even in times of emergency, human rights place binding obligations upon the Government to abide by the commitments they have made. The Government has obligations to limit the spread of COVID-19, but restrictions must be necessary, proportionate and respectful of human dignity. The Government has Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights obligations to protect people’s economic and social rights, as well as their civil and political rights. 

What are my rights as an older person?

What are my rights to healthcare? I’m worried that I’ll be denied treatment because I’m older and have underlying health conditions.

Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health according to international human rights law. The government is obliged to make every possible effort, within available resources, to achieve the right to health for everyone, in a non-discriminatory way.

You have the right not to be discriminated against for any reason set out under the Human Rights Act 1993, including age and disability.

There has been a lot of information in the news about health systems overseas having to use emergency triage because their resources are overloaded. For example, some countries have discussed the lack of ventilators, and whether older patients with less likelihood of recovery should be de-prioritised when allocating emergency resources and medical attention.

The rights of older people to health and life should be protected during this time, especially for vulnerable groups who already suffer poorer health outcomes. The government is confident in the New Zealand health system’s ability to cope with the number of cases and the resources required, so that everyone can receive equal care to recover from COVID-19 or other medical issues. Your doctor, and other healthcare providers, will be able to discuss this more with you if you are worried.

Can my employer tell me not to come to work because I’m over 70?

For people aged 70 and over, and others with existing medical conditions, there are additional risks should you be exposed to COVID-19.

At Alert Level 3, you can choose to return to work if you can’t work from home. If you go to work, you will need to ensure your workplace has arrangements in place to keep you safe.

Options for managing your health and safety might include working at times where there are fewer other workers around, increased physical distancing where possible, additional protective measures or equipment, or undertaking duties with lower levels of customer interaction. If you can’t safely work at your workplace, and can’t work from home, you need to agree with your employer what your leave from work and pay arrangements will be.

While there are some exceptions, under the Human Rights Act 1993 it is unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of their age. If you feel you have been discriminated against you can make a complaint to us.

My bubble feels unsafe and I think I might be suffering elder abuse. Can I leave?

COVID-19 has heightened the risks for those most vulnerable to violence, including elder abuse. Elder abuse can include psychological abuse like bullying or threats, financial abuse, physical or sexual abuse, and neglect. Isolation is not an excuse for any kind of violence.

If you are not being treated with dignity and respect, you can contact Age Concern for free and confidential support and advice about elder abuse and neglect. Age Concern provides free and confidential Elder Abuse Response Services in most cities and provincial areas throughout New Zealand. These services respond to any situations where an older person / kaumātua’s safety or wellbeing is at risk. You can ring a 24-hour helpline on 0800 326 6865 to be directed to the nearest Elder Abuse Response Service.

If the situation in your bubble is unsafe or life-threatening you can leave your bubble immediately and seek help from a neighbour or friend. Please reach out to Women’s Refuge (for women and children) on 0800 733 843, Shine (for men and women) on 0508-744-633 and dial 111 for Police.

I live in a retirement village. Can my family or friends visit me now that lockdown is over?

In Level 3, you can expand your bubble to reconnect with close family/whānau, bring in caregivers, or support isolated people. This includes if you live in a retirement village. Your bubble should be kept small and exclusive. Remember to take precautions like staying away from people who are unwell.

If you live in a residential aged care facility, non-essential services and family visits are still stopped during Level 3 (except for family visits for end of life/palliative care, on a case-by-case basis). This is because aged care facilities are particularly susceptible to the rapid transmission of viruses, as we have seen with the COVID-19 outbreak in the Rosewood Rest Home in Christchurch.

I live in a disability/aged care residential facility and they’ve told me my family can’t visit me until the lockdown is over. Can they do that?

The Ministry of Health has instructed disability and aged care residential facilities to stop all non-essential services and family visits. This is because older people often have underlying health issues, including respiratory issues that make them more vulnerable to COVID19, and aged care facilities are particularly susceptible to the rapid transmission of viruses. If you are receiving palliative care, your family can continue to visit you, but they will have to take extra precautions. Even though your family can’t visit you in person, you should still be able to contact your friends and family over the phone or through video calls. Unless you have been diagnosed or are suspected to have COVID-19, or there are cases in your residential facility, you should still be able to do most of your daily routine. If you do get sick with the virus, staff will isolate you in your room to make sure it doesn’t spread to other people. You should still have enough nutritious food, access to hygiene facilities (and assistance in showering or other activities, if necessary), access to medical treatment, and the ability to call your family while you are in isolation.

Photo credit: Glen Hodson on Unsplash

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  1. Avatar
    Geoff Waterhouse

    The rights that you have are those given you by Jasinister. I see there is nothing to identify “The Expert Of The Week” Another anonymous piece by someone who appears not to want to put his/her name to what is written. he New Zealand Bill Of RIGHTS is little more than a Bill Of GOODS, in that it is not SUPREME law, unlike the American Constitution and their Bill of Rights.

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