CNN  — 

They are among the greatest victims of coronavirus, yet elderly people continue to be dismissed, despite growing evidence of the devastating effects the pandemic has had on them.

Earlier this week, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had heard people describing high Covid-19 death rates among older people as “fine.”

“No, when the elderly are dying it’s not fine. It’s a moral bankruptcy,” he told a news conference. “Every life, whether it’s young or old, is precious and we have to do everything to save it.”

WHO figures from last week show that almost 88% of all deaths in Europe were among people aged 65 and over. And almost half of all deaths linked to Covid-19 globally have taken place in care homes, according to the Long-Term Care Covid (LTCcovid) network at the London School of Economics.

But despite vast numbers of elderly people dying of coronavirus – and a significant drop in the quality of life of many of those forced to self-isolate – the global response to the risks they face in the era of Covid-19 has often been chilling.

‘How much is a life worth?’

When Sweden took the controversial decision not to lock down, the country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told a local newspaper that its Public Health Agency “didn’t know that there would be such a big potential for the disease to spread in elderly care homes, with so many deaths.”

But he said the country’s main strategy of social distancing still “worked well” and he “can’t see that we should have done it in a completely different way.”

Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister of Australia, suggested in a speech in the UK on Tuesday that some elderly coronavirus patients could be left to die naturally.

“In this climate of fear, it was hard for governments to ask: ‘How much is a life worth?’ Because every life is precious, and every death is sad; but that’s never stopped families sometimes electing to make elderly relatives as comfortable as possible while nature takes its course,” he told the Policy Exchange think tank in London.

Abbott said governments were not “thinking like health economists, trained to pose uncomfortable questions about a level of deaths we might have to live with.”

And he said that even if Australia’s lockdown had prevented a predicted 150,000 deaths, the $300 billion cost to the country worked out at $2 million per life saved – or $200,000 per year if they only had a 10-year life expectancy, adding that such a price was “substantially beyond what governments are usually prepared to pay for life-saving drugs.”

‘A rich life’

It’s an argument that’s given short shrift by Robin Hall, a care home manager in southern England, who said elderly residents were “much more capabl