The second coronavirus wave isn’t the fault of young people over everyone else.
Coronavirus cases are rising, and in several European countries the dreaded second wave is already becoming more of a reality. In the first week of September, people aged 15 to 24 accounted for around 30% of new positive tests in Scotland, with similar statistics being reported in the rest of the UK. Health secretary Matt Hancock’s response was one which totally underestimated the complex nature of why young people are at the centre of this new spike: “Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.”
It makes sense to introduce new restrictions again when cases are rising, and limiting the number of households which can interact is not an inherently bad solution. In fact, I know there are instances of irresponsible house parties without social distancing which are likely to spread the virus further, and it is wise to put more measures in place to curb this. However, to allow these new restrictions to coincide with the narrative that young people are causing this spike by disregarding the severity of the situation, their own health, and that of others, is blatant scapegoating. As the government attempted to restart the economy there was inevitably going to be a rise in cases. Of course, the health secretary is right to warn us that young people make up a large portion of these new positive tests so that we can act accordingly, but to blame the rise in cases on “socialising by people in their 20s and 30s” is to be naive to the plethora of reasons that we are seeing this trend.
First of all, we were encouraged to socialise. “Eat Out to Help Out!” they exclaimed. Even now in the local authority areas, such as Glasgow, where we are being told we can’t visit other households at all, we can still visit people from another household in a pub or cafe. I understand that meetings can be better regulated in these places, but it does illustrate that the government are still encouraging socialising so long as it feeds the economy.
Let’s not forget who makes up a large proportion of the workforce in the service sector too. Most young people I know work part-time in hospitality and retail while studying at university, college and school. Many others who have left education continue on in these sectors into their 20s. To say that too much socialising is at the root of the spike in Covid-19 cases ignores the fact that young people are facilitating the industries which are getting the UK economy going again. We were always going to be involved in rising cases, as we work in the sectors which see people congregate, and the sectors in which we can’t work from home. As a retail worker, I see people showing blatant disregard for the regulations; wearing masks over their mouths but not their noses or taking them off to speak to me. At work, there’s not much I can do to avoid the potential threat of the virus when someone comes close to me without a mask and shouts at me because they have to queue, but when I enter a crowded shop in my free time, I can leave. Some young people are more likely to contract the virus as a product of the industry they are employed in, and that doesn’t mean that we’re complacent about the gravity of the situation we’re all in. On the contrary – at work, the people I see flouting the rules are very rarely under 30.
Furthermore, young people, particularly those returning to university, are more likely to be living in houses which they share with lots of people. In a shared house of university students who all have jobs in retail or hospitality, which they access via public transport, the chance of transmission is far higher than that of a middle-aged couple who live alone, both work from home, and own a car.
I know house parties are spreading the virus and need to be cracked down on. But I also know there is an abundance of other reasons as to why young people are more likely to be testing positive for Covid-19 at this time. It is not only unfair to blame this rise in cases on the supposed complacency of young people, it is ignorant to the severity of our situation. This second rise in cases was inevitable, and many under 30s are following the rules whilst it continues to spread. We cannot allow the government to scapegoat young people, as it undermines the idea that we all need to play a part in controlling this virus. Moreover, many young people are risking their safety by working in customer-facing industries whilst cases are rising; and, if anything, we should be grateful to those who are helping our economy during this time, rather than calling them the problem.
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