A consultant physician in geriatric and stroke medicine at Tallaght Hospital has said it is time for a "discussion" on how cocooning might be tweaked for the over 70s.

Professor Ronán Collins was speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime after the Taoiseach told the Cabinet that, as of today, there are no indications that Covid-19 levels are low enough to allow any easing of restrictions on 5 May. 

The physician admitted that he is trying to be purposely provocative to "start a discussion" about cocooning because he said it is "not sustainable" in the long term.

There is a danger, he said, of older people being stereotyped as vulnerable and having "the most to lose" in the fight against this virus.

Compromise is needed to give older people some quality of life and to preserve their health status without being stigmatised, Professor Collins said.

He called for older people to be allowed to "lead the discussion" on cocooning and suggested that an older persons' council could be a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team.

He agreed that the over 70s must be protected against Covid-19 as they stand the greatest risk to their mortality, but he added that "the vast majority of this age group that get Covid-19 will survive" and that older people are not homogenous.

"There are different states. Most over 70s are highly productive, with many working formally or informally. They are valuable members of our society and not being able to walk outside their home will have health implications," he said.

Many over 70s report being looked at disapprovingly if they are outside their home, Prof Collins said.

On the same programme, Ailbhe Smyth, activist, academic and member of Age Action, said that over 70s "cannot all be lumped together".

She said: "The word 'cocooning' frames everybody over age of 70 as the same regardless of your mobility, income, housing arrangement.

"It filled me with a sense of rage. To cocoon means to wrap up the over 70s in cotton wool and lock them in to their homes, and in a very real sense, throw away the key. The word was not thought out.

"This society must recognise that older people are living through a period of great loss; loss of freedom, independence, loss of voice and status. It runs great risks for the further emergence of and reinforcement of already ageist attitudes."

Trust must be placed in people over 70 to make important decisions for themselves, Ms Smyth said.

She said: "We are very well aware of the reasons why we are doing this. It is for the sake of us and our families but at the same time it feels like we don't have an existence outside our homes.

"I haven't been within touching distance of another person for seven weeks. That is not normal and it is not right. I have no objective view of my sanity anymore. There will be an emotional, mental and physical impact of this."

Ms Smyth, who lives on her own, said over 70s "don't seem to be able to contribute to the overall effort that we're making".

"Our effort is to do nothing. Which is very difficult to do given that the vast majority of those over 70 are not frail, and not especially vulnerable. Yes we are in this pandemic but not in other aspects of our lives. For people living on their own this is a terribly solitary experience."

Liam Griffin, hotelier and former Wexford hurling manager, called for health authorities to "be allowed to manage".

He said he believes that it is better "to err on the side of caution, rather than open everything up too soon".

"I see it as an extremely noble thing that we are doing. We are staying in to save lives.

"It is the right thing to do and the people managing this should be allowed to decide when it is right to go to the next level."