The current COVID-19 pandemic has come to impact all areas of life involving the health, psycho-social and economic wellbeing of individuals, as well as all stages of life from childhood to old age. Owing especially to the increased physical vulnerability and close co-habitation, the elderly living in long-term care facilities (LTCF) are especially at risk of contracting the disease.
While reporting measures tend to differ between countries making direct comparisons difficult, national statistics worldwide point to a disproportionate and staggering share of COVID-19 related mortalities coming from LTCF (ECDC 2020).
In an effort to better understand the policy-related factors contributing to developments within Europe, the present study takes inventory of measures adopted during the first wave of the pandemic that aimed particularly at the protection of the aged living in institutional care settings. To do so, we review the evolution of evidence-based guidelines put forth by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). We then examine how individual member states responded to the crisis, comparing the content and staging of national policy measures in six countries - Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Sweden - with those of the ECDC. Our study identifies better mortality outcomes for residents of LTCFs associated with member states that employed a stringent and timely policy response in line with ECDC recommendations.
Looking forward, in order to protect one of Europe's most vulnerable populations against this and similar pandemics, our findings point to the necessity for national governments to undertake both general measures to control the spread of the virus in the general population and LTC sector-specific measures, as both stand to impact the survival of the frail elderly living in institutions.