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Two months ago, the Guardian interviewed a group of young people from across the UK about their experiences of the coronavirus pandemic and their feelings about how their lives had been affected. Here those young people reflect on an extraordinary year and share their hopes and fears for the future.
Dylan Kawende, 23
The son of a care support worker and a Congolese-Rwandan refugee, Dylan Kawende is from north-west London and is studying at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge
“I’ve just finished my first term at Cambridge and have really enjoyed it, despite all the restrictions.
“I’ve found constitutional law particularly fascinating because it’s so relevant to what we’re going through at the moment in this country. I’ve realised there wasn’t sufficient scrutiny of the government’s use of Covid powers, for example. They didn’t have the power to tell people to stay at home in March – and that’s just one instance of how they’ve abused the law to mishandle the pandemic.
“The government has abused its position and its coercive powers, which were never intended to empower it to act as it has done. I’ve realised that this is a pattern with this government: they suspended parliament for five weeks back in August over Brexit. That was unlawful, too.
“Covid has also exposed a lot of injustices and inequalities, from the way the NHS is run to economic injustices. It’s made me very invested in being able to advocate on behalf of those who have been victimised by the government and its routine lack of sensitivity to the intricacies of individuals who suffer the most when it comes to health crises.
“The pandemic has also made me much more aware of the erosion of people’s basic, human rights that can take place if we’re not vigilant. It took a law degree for me to realise that the government had acted illegally when ordering people to stay at home in March and that lack of awareness is worrying: if the government thinks it can order us to do whatever it wants because we’re not aware of our rights, it’s a slippery slope.
“Covid has politicised the young indirectly as well as directly. Because we’ve all had to stay at home, we’ve been less distracted. I’m sure that’s why the Black Lives Matter message were heard by so many. This is a good thing. It’s an opportunity for us all to observe and appreciate the state of the world.
“I have a huge family and usually we all come together in one household over Christmas. But I don’t mind the change this year because my first priority now is to have long, introspective conversations with my family about how they’re feeling about the situation we’re all in. We have just assumed we’re all just getting on OK but that’s not an assumption I want to make.
“The vaccine is a source of hope and optimism for me but the number of conspiracy theories going round about it is alarming. It speaks to the mistrust that people have in the government and the proliferation of misinformation over social media.
“The consequences of this are dire: if enough people mistrust the government and don’t observe what they have to say – in circumstances where they’re saying it legitimately – it impacts on society at large.
“Covid has created more pockets where that paranoia can flourish.”
Aadam Patel lives in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, with his parents, Musa and Zubeda, and his brother and two sisters
“I managed to get myself a real, graduate-level job, at an international law firm in November. I count myself as hugely fortunate: loads of my graduate friends haven’t been as lucky. It’s really devastating for them to spend all these years studying and then face constant rejections.
“I also feel really sorry for my younger brother and sister because they’re just stuck at home, studying. The government isn’t doing anything like enough to protect them from the harm that’s doing: they’re missing out on all the experiences that make you into a rounded adult, not just the really important social experiences but also the ones that make you employable: it’s the little jobs that I had at 17 that developed my skills and work ethic – the things that your first employers want to see.
“My brother and sister aren’t getting any of that and their opportunities in life will be affected as a result. But this government has not done anywhere near enough to deal with it. Provisions have been made for other generations during this pandemic: lockdown was because of the older generation, after all. But it’s our generation that’s going to have to pay for the pandemic for the rest of our lives through taxes, a shrunken economy and fewer life chances.
“One of the positives of the pandemic has been spending so much time with my family this year. I’m usually constantly on the go but spending so much at home and in the local community has almost felt like a throwback to being young again. It’s been refreshing and good for the soul.
“It’s given me time to get to know myself too. I’ve got a deeper idea of what I am, my goals and aspirations over the last nine months. I now have a much better idea of where I want to be when there’s a fresh start in summer 2021.
“Another thing I’ve realised is the value of human touch and human meetings. My community is at the heart of one of the worst-hit areas in the country for Covid and it’s hard on us. We’re such a close-knit community: we genuinely have an open-door policy. But we’ve not given up; we’ve really fought for each other. If someone tests positive, food and supplies are dropped on their doorsteps.
“I’m 100% more politicised by Covid. It’s criminal how some politicians have taken advantage of the pandemic: the corrupt contracts for PPE, for example. How can that happen in a democracy? We’re taught that the UK is honest and trustworthy but it’s corrupt. It’s the only word for it.
“I’m angry but I’m also disappointed because the impact of their incompetence and corruption will be felt in the short-term by constant anger towards government and in the long term by an absolute erosion in trust in government.
“We grew up being told and believing that Britain was one of the most powerful countries in the world but, after this, I don’t think we are and I don’t think anyone else does either, at home or internationally. The word is embarrassing. That sums it up. It’s sad and disappointing – and embarrassing.”
Holly Ronicle lives with her younger brother, Noah, between the homes of her father, James, and mother, Emma, in York
“School hasn’t been too bad this term because I still get to play with my friends. But my best friend is in a different bubble to me, so we have to socially distance ourselves from her in the playground. We walk around and talk instead of playing, making sure we’re the right distance away from each other. Six months ago, we would be touching and jumping around on her but now we can’t go anywhere near her now.
“There are other friends in different bubbles who I’ve lost contact with because we can’t play together and they’re not part of my class friendship group. That’s sad but I’ve got closer to the other children in my class instead, which is nice.
“The world feels lonelier to me because I don’t see as many people around as we used to and can’t go anywhere. But, then again, I have got used to it. Empty streets just seem normal.
“Covid has changed me in a way that I deal with my worries better now. I used to be quite worried sometimes but lockdown has taught me not to worry. I’m not really sure how it’s taught me that. I think I have grown up a bit.
“I’m not sure the vaccine will help as much as people say. Everyone thought the pandemic would be over by Christmas and they were wrong, so they could be wrong again. I have become more unsure about what people in authority say.
“I have seen the world in a different way since Covid. I have realised how many people there really are in the world. I don’t know how that makes me feel but I think it’s an important thing to have realised.”
Nairn McDonald lives in North Ayrshire with his mother, Lindsay, and two younger brothers
“It’s been such a difficult year; there’s just been bad news after bad news. It’s been overwhelming but then there was the news of a vaccine. I watched the first woman getting the vaccine and I cried with relief. I know, now, that there’s an end in sight. This nightmare is finally coming to an end.
“The thought that I’ll be able to hug my grandfather and take him out for a drive is really emotional. I haven’t touched him or seen him properly for nine months.
“I have a lot of anger towards the mistakes by this government during the pandemic. The whole thing could have been handled better, especially what happened in care homes and the way the government put people’s lives at risk because of profit and the economy. I look at other countries and see them almost back to normality while our politicians are just bumbling along.
“I worry that we have to trust them with the vaccine rollout: I don’t have a lot of faith in them. At the same time, I have an overwhelming sense that we need a last pull together to get the vaccine rolled out. Once that’s done, then we can have the postmortem.
“The loosening of the five days at Christmas terrified me: all it takes is for one of my grandfathers’ carers to catch it and it will kill him. It could be indirectly – one of the carer’s daughter’s friends could have it and pass it on.
“And it’s not just my grandfather, of course: there’s a care home near us that hadn’t had a single case of Covid. Then someone hugged their granny and she caught Covid and died – then five other people at the care home died too. I’m dreading all the bad news that January will bring.
“Christmas has always been very big in our family. It didn’t feel happy or joyous at all this year. We didn’t spend Christmas with grandfather because the risks are too great. He will spend Christmas on his own. We did a doorstep visit in the morning and dropped some food off. If I’m honest, I’ve struggled with Christmas this year. It’s bringing me down. But I’m trying to stay positive and think about next Christmas, when we’ll have an extra-special celebration.
“Jobwise things are not good. I’ve been applying for a charity job but the job market is saturated: so many charities have had to close or reduce their staff that I don’t stand a chance competing for the same jobs.
“I’m keeping myself as busy as much as I can but as far as paid work goes, I don’t know when it’s going to even be a possibility. Without paid work I’m not contributing to society and it’s difficult to put into words the sense of worthlessness that creates.”
Bethan has eight siblings and moves between the homes of her mother, Serena, and her father, Dylan, in Llanarmon-yn-lâl, north Wales
“I’ve just started my new job and I’m really happy about it. I’m a charity support assistant, mainly caring for the elderly when they come out of hospital. I can’t be furloughed and there’s a constant need for our services as time goes on, so I’m confident that I’ve got secure employment, which is an amazing feeling.
“The PPE requirements are really strong. We’re entirely covered up and have to santise constantly – at least five times during each visit, including sanitising the visor.
“We’re not tested unless we have symptoms but I think that’s right: it would be a waste of money to test us constantly when we’re using PPE so much. I feel like everyone is a risk at this point but it’s being able to minimise that risk as much as possible. These people would be at risk in normal times too: even a common cold could be fatal for them.
“It sounds odd but I’m looking after all these people but I’ve got no idea what tier we’re in at the moment. It’s so complicated and changes so often, that I’ve given up keeping an eye on it. I just do what I’m told at work behave in a way that I think is sensible outside it.
“The vaccine issue is a source of anxiety for me but also a source of hope. They’ve already found it’s no good for people with allergies and I’ve got asthma, so they might go on to discover it’s not good for me either.
“We don’t know the impact of the vaccine 10 years from now and I’m only 19. I don’t want to find I’ve taken something that was developed too quickly and does something terrible to me in my 20s. I want the vaccine but I also want to wait as long as possible before I have it.”
“I am bored with the pandemic now. I’m moving in with my boyfriend in January and I want to be able to start everything fresh. I want the pandemic to be over. I want to move on.”
Oliwia Charowska lives with her younger brother, Marcel, and her parents, Joanna and Adrian, in Bromley, south-east London
“My childhood years are coming to an end at a time when I can’t enjoy them. I don’t leave the house without thinking, ‘Do I have my mask, my gloves, my hand sanitiser?’ When I meet up with friends, I’m always thinking ‘Am I far enough apart from them?’ I can’t just live in the moment. I’ve had to grow up quickly. I have realised the world is more complicated than I was told.
“It makes me feel that our last bit of childhood is being squandered. My friends and I are missing out on creating the memories our ancestors did at this stage of their lives. We can’t be spontaneous, independent and adventurous, and because of that, we’re missing experiences and life lessons.
“In November, my entire family had Covid. I was tested on the 20 November but was negative. I got symptoms a week later but the NHS wouldn’t give me another test. Then I went in for a routine operation on 9 December (that was later cancelled because of the pandemic) and was tested beforehand. That test came back positive. I was confused: I had my symptoms 11 days before that but apparently Covid stays in your system for 90 days.
“Dad and I reported the positive result to the NHS Covid-19 centre helpline and the school contacted the Department for Education to ask for advice. And then the calls began coming. Over two days, mum and I received about 30 phone calls from different public services – and the crazy thing was that they all told us different things.
“One so-called expert rang to say that because of when I had my symptom, I didn’t have to self-isolate at all. Then someone else said had to isolate until 12 December – and someone else said I had to isolate until 14 December.
“Everyone who calls tells me something different and it’s really confusing because surely they’re all using the same guidance, so should be giving me the same advice?
“During a crisis, we need clarity. Matt Hancock keeps using the word ‘robust’ but what’s robust about a £22bn system that gives completely inconsistent advice? The responsibility lies with the government: they drew up the guidelines and they created the systems. There have been too many U-turns.
“A lot of the nation has lost its trust and faith in the government because of the confusing messages and lack of clarity. There are too many unanswered questions.
“My generation is becoming much more involved in politics. We’re beginning to ask ourselves if they really know what they’re talking about. A lot of people have realised that they can’t depend on anything they’re being told.
“I’ve taken up a fourth A-level in politics because of what I’ve experienced during the pandemic. It’s amazing sitting in a room with other Gen Z kids; we’re young, enthusiastic and full of ideas about how to change the world. We bounce ideas off each other about how we should be doing things differently. We’re optimistic, enthusiastic and inspired.
“If there’s one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, it is that people have changed. There has been a huge awakening for us. It’s a tsunami. This pandemic has shown us that government makes mistakes and doesn’t know the answers. My generation have realised that we live in this one world together and we have to create the changes that we want to see for ourselves.”
Aryan Nair lives with his parents, Rakesh and Swetha, and younger brother in south London
“I’m in India at the moment and it’s so wonderful that I can hardly believe it’s true. I haven’t seen my grandparents for two years: we were going to see them in the summer but then there was the pandemic.
“It’s different here: little kids have to wear masks – which is bad because it’s really hot and hard to breathe in them – but no one really socially distances. We call my mum the Sanitiser Lady because she won’t let us touch anything and is always making us sanitise our hands.
“When we first arrived at my grandparents, she told me we had to shower before hugging our grandparents but my grandparents said they couldn’t wait and hugged us without waiting. Everyone was jumping around. We were so excited.
“It was a bit tense at the airport because my parents had to take tests, then we had to wear shields in the airport and there were empty seats between us in the aeroplane. It felt odd that we couldn’t see the air stewards: they were so covered up you could barely recognise them.
“It feels like I’ve been in a little room for years and am now on a big farm. My grandparents’ house isn’t a farm at all but I just feel freer here; there’s more space and they don’t have as many rules. The whole Covid thing feels a long way away, apart from the masks.
“We don’t celebrate Christmas but we had to have Diwali at home, which was sad. We had a party, with disco lights and just my family. We watched friends’ parties online but I missed going to their houses. I preferred it last year because it was more fun and the food was yummy.”
Jack Payne is from Sea Mills in Bristol, where he lived with his mother, Tracey, and brother and sister. He now lives in a student hall in Clerkenwell, London
“It has been a strange first term at university: it wasn’t the traditional freshers experience – most societies had their events online and offline, everyone wears their masks all the time but I think, because of all the changes and confusions, a lot of students break the rules, even though they’re heavily enforced by the wardens.
“Students are quite confused about the rule changes and have pretty much given up. Lots just rely on their own common sense instead. The feeling is that the government hasn’t been being objective because the rules have changed too often. The rules, to be honest, have become a bit of a joke among students.
“Having said that, the second lockdown changed the atmosphere on campus completely: no one hung around after the face-to-face tutorials – which we do sitting far away from each other and wearing masks, which makes debating with each other really hard – the library was empty and so was the rest of the campus. I feel a great disconnect between myself and the campus.
“It’s interesting to think about what university will be like in the future. I can see lectures moving online forever but it’ll be a great shame: the experience of university is much more than a series of online lectures. It’s about face-to-face contact with lecturers, about building academic contacts and making friends. This isn’t the experience I’m getting. I’m just sat at a computer screen all day, every day. There’s a great feeling of loneliness.
“I had my two Covid tests before I left to go back home for Christmas. Now I’m at home, I still can’t see my grandfather and uncle, because they’re shielding. Christmas without them was sad but I’m just telling myself that this year is an exception and next year things will be back to normal.”
Sanjana Parashar lives with her parents, Prasanjit and Shally, in Beckenham, Greater London, and one younger sister
“I don’t think it was the best decision of the government to let everyone come together for Christmas. I don’t get the feeling that they’re listening to the scientists, who are saying that it will make everything worse and lead to another lockdown.
“I understand that the government is trying to keep us safe but it’s not working. The numbers show that. I understand that they’re trying to keep the economy up but it should not be their main focus: the UK is a strong economy and will arise again, so the government should focus on the people.
“We usually spend Christmas with friends and travel beforehand – last year we went to Malta. Neither of those things happened this year and I’m not used to spending all winter at home. It’s not what I call fun.
“I’m worried about my family in India. Lots of them have had Covid and although they’re all OK, I still worry. If Dad has to go over to help, he’ll have to stay in a hotel to quarantine and that’s expensive.
“I’m also concerned about my GCSEs. What if they keep changing things, and the teachers don’t know the best way to teach it? If they make the exams easier though, then that’s OK with me.
“My relationship with my six-year-old sister has changed during the pandemic. We’re closer because we’ve spent so much time together but we fight too. It’s kind of sad but we’ve developed an argumentative relationship, which we didn’t have before. It really irritates my mum.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Generation Z and the Covid pandemic: ‘I’m 100% more politicised’ | World news