How Europe is tackling spread of Covid-19 with appeal to young people | World news

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As the number of Covid-19 cases rises sharply in parts of Europe, health authorities from the UK to Spain are calling on young people to do more to halt the spread of the virus. This is how the situation looks in a number of major European countries and how it is being tackled

Spain

In Spain, which on Monday became the first western European country to record more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases, authorities have been urging greater vigilance among young people for weeks. This month will also prove key as young people across the country begin returning to their studies after a six-month absence.

According to the latest figures from the Carlos III health institute in Madrid, 25% of new cases are being detected in people aged 15-29, while those aged 15-59 account for 71% of new cases. The most overrepresented groups are men and women aged 15-44 and women aged 89 and over.

Over the past week, the number of cases in every 100,000 in people aged 15-29 was 158.2, compared with an all-age average of 102.5.

On Tuesday, Spain’s health ministry launched a new campaign that aims to remind the population, “especially young people”, of the importance of handwashing, wearing a face mask and maintaining social distance.

The campaign, hashtagged #EstoNoEsUnJuego (#ThisIsNotAGAme) features a black-and-white video that riffs on a Spanish children’s rhyme and shows young people gathering to drink in the street before cutting to images of people in hospital – including an older woman being treated by a medic in full PPE – and, ultimately, to a picture of a coffin on a gurney.

“If we don’t follow the health guidelines, we put our lives – and those of others – at risk,” runs the warning. “Help us follow them.”

In Madrid, the worst hit Spanish region, indoor or outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned. The regional government, which has been criticised for its lack of test-and-trace resources, said last week that it would almost double the number of contact tracers in the region, from 560 to about 1,100.

While the governments of some regions have been imposing their own localised lockdowns on a case-by-case basis, Spain’s health minister has ruled out another nationwide confinement: “There’s no comparison with what we saw in March; the system isn’t overwhelmed”. SJ

France

In its most recent report, the French health authority, Santé Publique France, documented what it called an “exponential progression” of the transmission of Covid-19 – “mainly among young adults”. In the report, which covered the week to 1 September, it noted a “failure of young adults to apply prevention measures”.

It appears the biggest increase in new cases in that week compared with the previous one was a 44% rise among 0- to 14-year-olds – this was a week before the return to school – followed by a 33% rise among 15- to 44-year-olds, a 30% rise among those aged 45-64, and a 36% rise in those aged 75 and over.

Figures released on Monday show an increase of 4,203 new cases, a drop on previous days, but the rate of positive tests has risen to 5.1% and there are 562 clusters currently under investigation, which is an increase of 58 on the previous day.

On Monday, one French TV channel showed videos of a number of packed nightclubs in Paris from the weekend, where there were very few young people wearing masks and zero social distancing. Restaurants and bars across the capital are very crowded during the evenings and again, young adults are still giving the bises (pecks on the cheek) and not keeping 1m apart. KW

Ireland

Young people are playing a disproportionate role in Ireland’s surging rate of infection, prompting warnings about the reopening of college campuses.

The section of the population more likely than any other to get coronavirus, and to expose others to infection, are those aged 15-24.

Ireland’s 14-day cumulative incidence of Covid-19 cases has risen to 34.7 cases for every 100,000 people, higher than the UK and Italy but still far behind Spain. Ronan Glynn, the acting chief medical officer, on Monday expressed “growing concern” at the rise, especially in Dublin and Limerick.

Without strict measures, reopening college campuses would multiply physical interactions and extend and amplify social contact chains among those most likely to become infected and to spread the virus, Seán L’Estrange, a social scientist at University College Dublin, wrote in a research note.

“Colleges committing to recreating the ‘campus experience’ pose a very particular challenge to public health. Measures to counter this threat have evolved piecemeal over recent months and continue to be elaborated in local settings in a largely ad hoc manner, leaving many hostages to fortune.”

In Northern Ireland, a former health minister, Jim Wells, warned that the region was facing a second wave driven by young people.

He told the BBC the Stormont executive should “hammer home that message, that just because you’re between 18 and 30 doesn’t mean you’re not a carrier”. RC


Italy

Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, has called on young people to “lend a hand” to help contain coronavirus as the median age of people becoming infected with Covid-19 dropped to 32 over the past 30 days.

“They have paid a huge price in recent months, beginning with the closure of schools and universities, and we ask them to help because the virus is less harmful to young people,” Speranza said during a visit to a research lab in Tuscany on Monday.

“But they risk transferring the virus to their parents and grandparents, and so we continue to ask young Italians to respect the fundamental rules, starting with wearing masks and maintaining a 1-metre distance.”

After a couple of months of relative calm, Italy saw a resurgence of coronavirus in mid-August, with many of the cases traced to nightclubs, which were then closed. The wearing of face masks outside was also made mandatory between 6pm and 6am in areas close to bars, however this has been difficult to control, with groups continuing to congregate across the country without maintaining coronavirus rules.

Young holidaymakers returning home from at-risk countries as well as the island of Sardinia have also driven the recent rise in cases.

Data from the country’s Higher Health Institute on Monday showed that 62.1% of those who tested positive within the last 30 days were aged between 19 and 50.

Italy is yet to take any specific measures to mitigate the spread of the virus to more vulnerable groups, but certain areas, for example the city of La Spezia in Liguria, have moved to ban music in bars. AG

Germany

Increasing numbers of young Germans are becoming infected with coronavirus, a trend that has been noted by the public health monitoring body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for several weeks. Currently more than half of new infections registered, are of people under the age of 30.

The incidence of 20- to 24-year-olds is now more than 30 out of 100,000, compared to just 10 for 40- to 49-year-olds and two among the 70- to 79-year-old age group.

While the 80-plus age group accounted for 17% of new infections in April, now it is just 4%. Epidemiologists are in agreement that the main reason is to do with younger people’s behaviour. Just as in non-pandemic times, they travel more, they party more and at family gatherings, they are more likely to huddle than older people. They are also less fearful of contracting the virus and therefore less likely to stick to the recommended hygiene rules.

In Berlin there is particular concern, where the incidence of the virus among 20- to 24-year-olds is as high as 43 in every 100,000 (the Berlin average is 13.7). The popular district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is under particular focus.

”It’s parties which are to blame for this,” said Berlin’s health minister, Dilek Kalayci, on Monday, warning that if the figures did not drop, authorities would be forced to introduce tougher measures. Police have already been habitually breaking up large gatherings in parks and riversides across the city or raiding illegal parties. Of particular concern, said Kalayci, is that compared to outbreaks in groups which are easier to localise and contain, 87% of new infections are of individuals capable of spreading the virus throughout the German capital. Clubs and many other venues remain closed.

Thousands of young Germans, from Berlin and Dresden, have been heading to Prague in the neighbouring Czech Republic as an alternative. But authorities there have now said clubs and discos will close from midnight on Wednesday due to a dramatic rise in the virus.

Bans on selling alcohol have been introduced locally, in Munich and Hamburg. But authorities have so far been hesitant to put more restrictions on young people out of fear that they may backfire. Epidemiologists say, however, while a greater number of young people appear to be infected now than at the height of the pandemic, it is likely that many more were infected previously but simply didn’t show up in the statistics. Now far more people are being tested in Germany – since the start of July the number of tests carried out every week has more than doubled from 500,000 a week, to over 1.1m now. While in spring, around 10% of tests were positive, in the last week of August, only 0.74% were.

There is little sense of complacency, however, with virologists warning that the danger of the infection spreading again among older age groups, is high. Those in risk categories are only protected from the virus as long as the infection rate remains low. As soon as it starts to spread it is almost impossible to stop it from reaching the older and more vulnerable. One of the first consequences if that happens, would be tighter restrictions on visiting care homes and hospitals. KC

Source: The Guardian
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