Professor Sir Chris Whitty said the crisis had shown a “great majority” willing to make sacrifices.
He added: “The reason they took the decisions they took to put their lives on hold, often at considerable personal costs – social, economic or other – was to protect largely an older population, most of whom they would never know at all.
“That was a societal decision made at a huge, popular level. If you look at the approval levels for doing this, over 90% agreed that this was the right thing to do.
“What Covid demonstrated to me was the very strongly held altruism of the British population towards older people and those living in greater disability than themselves.”
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Earlier this week, the Covid Inquiry heard that ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going”.
This came from August 2020 extracts from the diary of former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Prof Whitty was speaking yesterday in Central London at the annual conference of health think-tank The King’s Fund.
During his speech on healthy ageing he said it was right to celebrate progress which means it is “very rare for people who get through their first 24 hours of life to not survive until their late 70s”.
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But he warned that the older populations were growing faster in “peripheral” areas outside of cities, where there are fewer young people to look after them.
However he said that “very large numbers of people who are really very elderly have very good lives” and the vast majority will not have dementia or live in a care home.
But he did warn about the rising tide of obesity among older people.
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