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Opinion

Older people’s rights and dignity must be protected amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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By Alanna Armitage

Across Europe, from Spain to Serbia, care homes for older people have become hotspots of COVID-19 infections. According to the World Health Organization, residents of long-term care facilities account for up to half of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

Among all the heartbreaking statistics that tell the story of how the virus is devastating lives around the world, this figure sticks out to me. It shines light on an unimaginable tragedy unfolding right before our eyes – but drawing surprisingly little public attention.

Older people living in care facilities make up only a tiny fraction of the total population – barely 1%, for example in Germany, the country with Europe’s largest number of nursing home beds per capita. This gives a sense of how grotesquely over-represented care home residents are among the deaths caused by the virus.

Older people in general are badly affected by the pandemic. They are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and some 95% of deaths are among people aged 60 and older. This is one reason why Europe, the region with the world’s largest proportion of older people, is seeing the pandemic ravaging with such force within its borders. And older people aren’t just facing a health crisis: physical distancing (erroneously called social distancing) measures to contain the virus also have a disproportionate impact on their lives and livelihoods, as many are cut off from the services, support and caregivers they rely on.

Often neglected and out of sight, older people living in care homes are among the most vulnerable of all. We hear haunting stories of people dying alone, without having their loved ones around them and with sometimes only minimal care provided by overwhelmed and under-financed facilities.

The tragedies happening in nursing homes right now are just one, albeit extreme, expression of how we are failing older people more broadly. The pandemic has put this failure into stark relief, but it didn’t begin with COVID-19. As countries in Europe are ageing rapidly – one in four people already is 60 years or older – societies have been struggling to create conditions for the growing number of older people to be able to thrive, remaining in good health and active in their communities and public life.

Instead, many older people experience neglect, poverty, social exclusion and isolation – exacerbated now because of the pandemic. Perhaps even worse is the way public discourse tells them, more or less subtly and through myriads of cultural clues, that because of their age they are a burden, less valuable, even expendable.

It is my hope that this crisis, and the horrifying effects it has on many older people, will come to be a turning point for how we see and treat older people in society. At UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, we work hard with our partners in government and civil society not only to support older people during the pandemic. But also to ensure more broadly that their dignity and rights are protected and that they remain integrated and engaged in their communities.

Many countries are now looking at how the crisis can be turned into opportunity. There are four key steps governments can take to make this happen:

  1. Prioritise the protection of older people in response to COVID-19. This can include sending unequivocal public messages of support for the equal rights and dignity of older people and taking bold measures to demonstrate that public commitments go beyond lip service. Ensuring continuity of services, supporting caregivers, using digital technologies to reach people in isolation – a lot can be done to mitigate the effects of the crisis.
  2. Hear the voices of older people. As we are responding to this crisis, and developing policies for the future, we must listen to what older people have to say. Engaging with community representatives is vital for avoiding biases and being able to come up with solutions that respond to actual needs.
  3. Counter ageism in public discourse and practice. There must be no tolerance for the rampant age discrimination and negative stereotyping that has surfaced even more during this crisis. Promoting a counter-narrative centred on inter-generational solidarity and the agency and valuable contributions of older people will be key for shifting social norms and attitudes.
  4. Revisit legal and policy frameworks and budgets through an age lens. Now is the time to start looking beyond the crisis and review what needs to change in sectors like health, education, employment and social welfare so that countries are in a better position to cope with the effects of rapid demographic change while ensuring the rights and choices of an ageing population.

Let’s be clear: the death of so many older people during this crisis was not inevitable. It is the direct result of our failure – as societies, institutions and cultures – to assign equal importance and value to the lives and well-being of the older generation. We must learn from past mistakes and get serious about creating a society for all ages in which older people are recognized, and supported, as the important pillars of society that they are: as teachers and mentors, carers and volunteers, story-tellers and creators, conveyors of culture, and fighters for rights that we sometimes take for granted. In an ageing Europe, we simply cannot afford to exclude a quarter of the population with all their skills, talents and other contributions. Ensuring that older people are treated with the same rights and dignity as everyone else is not only a moral imperative, it’s a win-win for all, old and young alike.

Alanna Armitage is the Director of the Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Photo: UNFPA

Reintegration

Protecting public health or violating freedom of movement? Protests in Transnistria

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On July 02, a protest has been registered in Ribnita (a city in the Transnistrian region). Dozens of city residents who work in Rezina (Moldova), blocked the bridge across the Dniester that connects the two localities. People complained they are not allowed to go to work because the Tiraspol authorities cancelled their permits to cross the bridge.

More than 70 people demanded free access to Moldova, as well as respecting their right to free movement. They also requested the cancellation of the obligation to stay in quarantine for 14 days upon return from Moldova.

On June 29, a decision of the Transnistrian authorities has been made, stating that the residents of the Transnistrian region are allowed to enter and leave the region without being quarantined upon return, in case they go to Moldova for maximum 12 hours.

Moreover, citizens from Transnistria, employed by companies on the right bank of the Dniester, were granted a temporary permit issued by the Tiraspol authorities in order to travel freely to their workplace and back. Once the permits were cancelled, these people were left without the possibility to go to work.

The Tiraspol authorities claimed that the permits were cancelled because at least 10 employees of factories in Rezina, who are residents of Ribnita, were infected with COVID-19. Therefore, avoiding a second wave of infections among the inhabitants of the Transnistrian region is aimed, according tot the the so-called Minister of Internal Affairs, Ruslan Mova.

Mova warned that people who organised the protest could be held accountable. He claimed people from Transnistria still have a choice, as they can enter the Republic of Moldova and stay there during the coronavirus pandemic or they can be quarantined when returning to Transnistria.

“The abusive actions of the Transnistrian structures are described as an act of defiance of the basic acts of the peacekeeping operation and a total disregard for the decisions approved at Unified Control Commission,” is mentioned in a press release of the the Bureau for Reintegration Policies from Moldova. The Transnistrian side’s manner of distorting the truth, misinforming the Commission and trying to manipulate public opinion was condemned by the Moldovan delegation, highlighting that the reduction in the Commission’s authority is a consequence of Tiraspol’s actions, as it also mentioned in the press release.

Source: Alexandr Podgoretchi

On the other hand, the OSCE Mission to Moldova expressed its deep concern about the unexpected cancellation by the Transnistrian side of permits for the residents of the region, is mentioned in an OSCE statement cited by INFOTAG News Agency

Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Claus Neukirch, urged the region’s authorities not to create artificial obstacles to the free movement of residents. “Although health measures are needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there must be a functioning mechanism to allow people to travel to their jobs, access healthcare services and other urgent needs even during the pandemic,” Neukirch said.

The OSCE Mission to Moldova also urged the Transnistrian administration to dismantle all border checkpoints installed in the last five months.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tiraspol unilaterally installed 37 illegal checkpoints in the Security Zone. Such actions impeded the free movement of about 50 thousand inhabitants from 11 localities and tensioned the relations between Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova, according to a statement of the Government.

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Society

COVID-19 statistics: Moldova’s harmful figures that still can break the European records

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In June, the COVID-19 pandemic advanced rapidly in the Republic of Moldova. The number of contaminated persons increased by 92% as compared to May, while the growth was only 23% from April to May, according to a note of the ADEPT association. The same source stated that an increase by 70% in the number of deaths was recorded in June as compared to May.

With the lifting of the state of emergency in Moldova, the National Extraordinary Public Health Commission cancelled several restrictions contrary to the warnings of public health specialists regarding such premature measures: relaunch of dental and hairdressing services, resumption of international rail and road transport of people, markets re-opening and resumption of museums and libraries’ activity. The Commission also approved religious ceremonies in closed spaces, opening shopping malls and outdoor training for performance athletes, as well as regular flights and passenger charters.

See also: Lifting coronavirus restrictions in Moldova – risks and future costs

As a result, a record number of daily cases and deaths caused by the coronavirus was recorded in June. At the end of the state of emergency (May 15) the total balance of confirmed cases had reached 5 745, with a steady ascending trend. The trend  continued in the following weeks, reaching over 2 000 confirmed positive cases per week.

Source: statista.com

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection (MHLSP) data, the peak of the daily cases recorded in Moldova was reached on June 17 – 478 new cases. To date, the total number of confirmed cases is 17 150 and the total number of deaths – 560. The Republic of Moldova ranks the 12th in the list of the European countries with the highest incidence of coronavirus cases – 410.88 cases per 100 000 population.

Another record number that has a huge negative impact on the way the coronavirus pandemic is managed in the country is the rate of the infected medical staff out of the total confirmed cases. Until, July 2, 2 429 cases of infection (13.11% of total cases) have been confirmed among medical staff, including 613 doctors, 28 pharmacists, 974 nurses, 125 janitors, 698 auxiliary personnel, as the MHLSP reported. The number of medical workers infected with COVID-19 has almost the same increase rate as the total number of infections, mentioned the ADEPT association.

The positive test rate is another figure that recorded one of the most significant growths as compared to other European countries. The total positive tests rate recorded since the beginning of testing (in February) is 20.8%, with the highest monthly rate of 24.1% in June. The maximum number of tests performed in one day was 1 659 on June 17. All in all, 82 635 people were tested for the first time and 20 404 were tested repeatedly in Moldova.

The MHLSP warned that the coronavirus also massively affects children. The authorities specified that a total of 824 minors were infected in the Republic of Moldova.

The positive news is that the number of registered active cases decreased during the last days of June. The same tendency was observed as regarding the medical staff. At the same time, the number of recoveries increased during the same period.

Source: statista.com

Photo: Wikimedia

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Politics

The effect of Russia’s constitutional changes on the Transnistrian region

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A nationwide referendum is held in the Russian Federation between June 25 and July 1 in order to amend the constitution of the country.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the opportunity to vote during several days was provided. The voting process is held outside and, in addition, contactless voting at home, electronic voting and voting using the Mobile Voter mechanism are available.

In the Transnistrian region, voting was allowed for three days, from June 28-30, the whole process being organised under similar conditions as in Russia, the Tass News Agency announced.

According to a survey conducted at 800 Russian polling stations from June 25 to June 28, the majority of voters opted for the amendments, 23.6% opposed them and 0.4% invalidated the ballot paper,

Beside the amendment offering the possibility of prolonging the presidential term of Vladimir Putin (until 2036 instead of 2024), there are a a few controversial amendments to the Russian fundamental law.

Source: Facebook| The Center for the Study of the Transnistrian Conflict Consequences

Russian federal territories

One of the most important articles of the Constitution of the Russian Federation that could be amended is article no. 67,  which provides for creation of federal territories in Russia and introduction of the expression “subjects of the Russian Federation”.

“By making this change, Putin wants to make sure that certain federal subjects do not leave the Russian Federation, such as Chechnya, Tatarstan or Crimea, the latter being illegally occupied by the Russian Federation. The territory of the Republic of Moldova doesn’t belong to  the Russian Federation. However, taking into consideration the priorities that President Dodon and socialist have, one could draw a parallel.

During the propagandist Moscow parade, Putin mentioned in his speech that all neighbours ‘are part of the Russian world’. Moldova, according to Vladimir Putin, is part of his strategic interest. The fact that 11% of the Moldova’s territory is hosting occupation troops proves it one more time,” said security policy expert Rosian Vasiloi.

Previously, President Igor Dodon claimed that federalisation is the only solution to solving conflicts in the Republic of Moldova, including the Transnistrian one.

Source: Facebook| The Center for the Study of the Transnistrian Conflict Consequences

Russia as the legal successor to the Soviet Union

In the same article, a paragraph was introduced, saying that the Russian Federation is the legal successor of the Soviet Union. Another amending paragraph states that the Russian Federation honours the memory of the “Fatherland’s defenders” and ensures the protection of historical truth. “The diminution of the importance of the act of heroism in the defence of the Fatherland is not allowed.”

Historian Andrei Cusco mentioned that the victory in World War II is a myth that represented the main pillar of the regime’s ideology after Putin came to power in 2000. “Russia has taken certain moments from the Soviet communist narrative and reinterpreted them to serve the interests and visions of the current regime,” Cusco said.

The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation prohibits the dissemination of information that expresses a clear disrespect regarding the days of military glory and memorable dates in Russia related to the defence of the Fatherland, as Meduza informed.

A good example is the reaction of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova to the TVR Moldova declaration that June 22, 1941 was the day when Romania entered the World War II to liberate the Russian-occupied lands in the summer of 1940. “For Romanians, this date went down in history as the day of starting the fight for the reunification of the nation. The President of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon, is not of the same opinion, as he stated that today is the day when the occupation of Bessarabia began,” it is said in the article.

The Embassy of the Russian Federation qualified the material as “uncivilised and extremely dangerous, because it justifies the war criminals.”

“Such tricks offend most Russian citizens who remember the common heroism of the Red Army that saved Europe from the Nazi plague.”

The perfect Russian child

One more completion to the constitution refers to children education, namely patriotism, citizenship and respect for the elderly.

The same approach existed during the USSR, when the principles of a very cultured man were considered love for the socialist homeland, friendship, companionship, humanity, honour, love for socialist work, etc.

 Marriage of a man and a woman

Another newly introduced amendment provides for the protection of the family, maternity, paternity and childhood, defending the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, creating the conditions for a decent upbringing of children in a family, as well as for the fulfilment of the obligation to take care of parents.

Yet, another video promoting the amendment of the constitution promotes homophobia as well.

Crime against Russians

The Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner believes that the way of voting the amendments is not democratic. “There are many proposed amendments. Among them, there are those that I would be willing to support, but there are those that I am against of. Unfortunately, everything is organized in such a way, that either you order the entire dinner or none of the dishes,” he said.

Liubov Sobol, a Russian politician and lawyer at the Anticorruption Foundation, claimed that resetting Putin’s mandates to zero is a crime against Russians. “20 years were enough to implement all the reforms needed for our country. We saw that Putin failed. Corruption is flourishing in the country, we have a low level of education. There must be a change of power, and all eligible candidates must be allowed to run for president. People have to make a choice.”

This text is a translation. The original article here.

Photo: Facebook| The Center for the Study of the Transnistrian Conflict Consequences

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