Scientists and medical experts have criticised the government for blaming young people breaking social distancing rules for the increase in coronavirus cases.
Figures released last week showed that a third of new COVID-19 cases in England were people aged between 20 and 29, while nearly 3,000 cases were reported in the 24 hours to 9am on Monday.
The rise in cases has prompted the government to announce new restrictions on social gatherings, allowing only six people to meet up.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday morning that evidence from France and Spain showed that “a second wave started largely amongst younger people” before spreading to the wider population and pushing up hospital admissions and deaths.
His comments have been met with some criticism from medical experts, who say pointing the finger at young people risks “demonising” them.
This headline is unfair. Many young people work in hospitality. Many had the choice to either go back to work or lose your job. The gov then encouraged people to visit restaurants/bars with eat out to help out with staff serving hundreds of people each week! Stop demonising YP https://t.co/H3cE497GBn— Dr Angel Chater (@DrAngelChater) September 9, 2020
Psychologist Dr Angela Chater said that there were a variety of factors for cases rising – including the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
She tweeted: “Many young people work in hospitality. Many had the choice to either go back to work or lose your job.
“The government then encouraged people to visit restaurants/bars with eat out to help out with staff serving hundreds of people each week!”
Hancock has said coronavirus can be serious for young people – even if they are less likely to die from it than older ones.
He also emphasised that “younger people spread the disease, even if they don't have symptoms”, adding: "Don't kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.”
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said it was “unhelpful to castigate various social groupings for the recent increase”, adding that it was a “complex issue”.
Dr Gail Carson, deputy chair of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, said she was “keen to avoid a blame game”.
She added: “Let's remember that our young folks have had a rubbish 2020 to date and need understanding not alienation through a blame game.”
Young people on Twitter were also quick to hit back at being blamed for an uptick in coronavirus cases:
“The government has warned there could be a second spike of coronavirus if young people don’t follow social distancing”— Charlie Tarantino (@OhhhhCharles) September 7, 2020
But the old bloke without a mask who didn’t use hand sanitiser that barged past me in Primark isn’t to blame?
Imagine having the gall to blame young people for the uptick in coronavirus cases as though the government didn't force kids back to schools and actively encourage everyone to go back to offices, pubs, restaurants and gyms— christie rae (@ChristieRaePR) September 9, 2020
Maybe the reason why there is a covid spike among young people is because we’ve spent the past (almost 6 months) at home and now we’re doing what we’ve been told to: getting back to work, using public transport, eat out to help out, support small businesses, go on holiday 1/— Georgina Merckel (@geemerckel) September 9, 2020
Don’t pass the blame solely onto young people for the fact that the coronavirus hasn’t been handled properly from the beginning— chloe moorehouse (@chloemoorehouse) September 9, 2020
Take responsibility as a government and responsibility as a country as a whole - not just for those of us 18-25
Thank you for coming to my ted talk x
Hans Kluge, Europe director of the World Health Organization, has also previously warned that younger people failing to social distance in the winter months could see a second wave of coronavirus spread across the continent.
Dr David Strain, chair of the British Medical Association’s Medical Academic Staff Committee, said “mixed messaging” on various social-distancing measures had left the country “without clarity”.
He added: “It is therefore little wonder that an entire generation has interpreted the lack of guidance to their favour, causing the predictable rise in new cases among those aged 17-39.”