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Young people have hit back against the suggestion from senior politicians across the UK that they might be responsible for increases in coronavirus cases.
England has experienced the largest rise in confirmed Covid-19 cases since May and there are fears of a second wave across the four nations, with the Conservative mayor for the West Midlands, Andy Street, highlighting a marked increase in cases in Birmingham and Solihull among under-40s.
He raised the fear of “very stringent restrictions preventing people enjoying the things they’ve been looking forward to” if they did not follow the coronavirus precautions, while Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pleaded for older people to “be even more vigilante” if spending time with young relatives who might recently have visited pubs and restaurants.
However, Alice Hope, a 24-year-old public engagement coordinator in Didcot, Oxfordshire, thinks blaming young people is unfair, particularly following the eat out to help out scheme, which encouraged people to visit high streets with the promise of half-price food.
“There are so many different problems with comparing data across the pandemic,” she said. “Previously the government was looking at people with serious symptoms and those dying in hospital, even though there were probably plenty of young people at the time who may have had it but couldn’t get tested.
“The government has actively encouraged people to socialise, and being less vulnerable surely young people have been best placed to re-stimulate the economy? Also, house parties and other such gatherings are only being attended by a minority. This is a time for unity, and unfairly reprimanding young people will only lead to fewer people following the guidance.”
Moby Wells, who is studying history at the University of Cambridge, also felt young people were being undeservedly cast as “careless and selfish” as a diversion from the government’s failings.
“We didn’t lock down early enough and now the government is just diverting the blame on to us,” said the 19-year-old from south Norfolk. “Only recently have I grown comfortable meeting my friends and, unlike some people, I wear my mask frequently, especially outside.
“I’m worried that people are becoming too relaxed but equally I worry about losing my youth. We’re just trying to make the best out of a bad situation.”
In Sunderland, Callum, 19, who did not wish his surname to be published, has been working 65 hours a week at a walk-in coronavirus test centre and believes the government is seeking excuses to extend “draconian” restrictions.
“Yes there has been a rise among young people, but I don’t think it’s as concerning as it’s being made out to be,” he said. “We have to learn to live with this. I think any comparisons with the number of positive tests during lockdown and now is trivial, too, given the disparity between positive cases per tests in mid-March compared with now.
“The narrative at the moment appears to just be an excuse for the government to continue its draconian restrictions, especially on young people, who are already having their lives and futures drained.”
Will there be a second wave of coronavirus?
In recent days the UK has seen a sudden sharp increase in Covid-19 infection numbers, leading to fears that a second wave of cases is beginning.
Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics. Until now that had been what was expected from Covid-19.
How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.
Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back in a second wave?
This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.
Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.
Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.
In June 2020, Beijing suffered from a new cluster of coronavirus cases which caused authorities to re-implement restrictions that China had previously been able to lift. In the UK, the city of Leicester was unable to come out of lockdown because of the development of a new spike of coronavirus cases. Clusters also emerged in Melbourne, requiring a re-imposition of lockdown conditions.
What are experts worried about?
Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.
However Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, says “‘Second wave’ isn’t a term that we would use at the current time, as the virus hasn’t gone away, it’s in our population, it has spread to 188 countries so far, and what we are seeing now is essentially localised spikes or a localised return of a large number of cases.”
The overall threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.
In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry is that with a vaccine still many months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.
Peter Beaumont, Emma Graham-Harrison and Martin Belam
In north London, 17-year-old Matthew Woolf, who attends the Jewish community secondary school, said Tory messaging throughout the pandemic had been contrasting and hypocritical. “For them to blame our age group while telling us to get back to school, that we can now see friends and that we can play full contact football is typical of their strategy,” he said.
Woolf thought the government has been “deliberately vague” throughout the coronavirus crisis as a ploy to “reappropriate blame at every opportunity”.
“It’s really infuriating that they’re blaming us for the rise now,” he said. “The government relaxed the regulations but didn’t really say what you couldn’t do … We were so restrained for so long and I didn’t see people at all for at least three months. And then only did so outside. Then, [suddenly] pubs were jam packed.”
In Derbyshire, David Chan, a 17-year-old sixth former, said it felt that young people were doomed if they stayed in, because of the mental health consequences, and doomed if they went out – as they could be spreading the virus.
“For some people it might be quite hard to self-isolate,” he added. “I was allowed to go into school during lockdown. You would feel a sense of guilt that there is a chance that you could pass it on.”
Chan, who is British of Chinese and English heritage, drew parallels with prejudices during the onset of the pandemic, when there was a rise in hate crime against people of Asian origin, and now, with the blame on young people.
He said that the government had eased lockdown prematurely. “I have not wanted to return to ‘normal’ because it terrifies me that I could be asymptomatic and pass on the virus to a much more vulnerable person who would become seriously ill,” he said. “I do not think that I could forgive myself for potentially causing someone else to become seriously ill.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Don’t blame us for UK’s coronavirus spike, say young people | Coronavirus outbreak