Stop demonising young people making huge COVID sacrifice to save the old, leading scientist urges

A group of young people walk through Cardiff city centre at night. A ban on groups of more than six people meeting indoors in Wales, including pubs and restaurants, is expected to be announced later today as ministers try to tackle the rising number of coronavirus cases across the UK.
A scientist has argued against demonising young people for the rise in coronavirus infections. (PA Images)
  • Young people have sacrificed their social and personal lives, and their economic prosperity, for older people, a scientist has said

  • Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson have highlighted rising infections in young people

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Young people have been making a “huge sacrifice” to stop older people being infected by the coronavirus, a leading scientist has said.

The rise in COVID-19 infections this week – more than 2,000 a day – has seen the finger pointed firmly at teenagers and young adults.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has reiterated that they still need to practise social distancing and can fall ill with bad symptoms.

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, said that it is likely true that COVID-19 is more prevalent in younger people.

However, he added: “It is disheartening to see this presented as a novel observation, had we been testing in January we would have seen the same thing as now.

“I have seen arguments that were disproven by data in other countries rehashed.

“Younger people generally lead more sociable lives than older people and the majority of younger people have no symptoms so have no idea they are infectious.

Read more: The area with the worst Test and Trace numbers

“Brutally said, younger people are being asked to make a huge sacrifice in social life, personal life and economic prosperity to save the older population from COVID-19.

“I am very grateful at just how many of them have willingly done so, especially given that although no one is completely safe, for younger people COVID-19 is largely harmless.”

Hancock has said that “we have seen a concerning rise in the number of positive cases, particularly among younger people, and these figures serve as a salutary reminder that this virus is still very much with us and remains a threat”.

He went on BBC Radio 1 to say: “Sticking to the social distancing rules is incredibly important.

“The question is, how much are you willing to risk the lives of yourself and others by breaking the social distancing rules?

“Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.

“And you can pass it on before you have had any symptoms at all.”

Read more: Coronavirus could be increasing exponentially as R rate rises again

He added that young people had caught the virus in Spain and France, leading to the virus spreading and an increase in hospitalisations and deaths.

Boris Johnson told his cabinet that ministers must ensure there is “no complacency” in members of the public, particularly among young people.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock giving a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London.
Matt Hancock has said young people need to observe social distancing. (PA Images)

New rules to try and head off the rise in infections – 19.7 per 100,000 people were infected in the UK, up from 12.5 per 100,000, in the last week – have been introduced and a maximum of six people are now allowed to gather in England.

Infections are most prevalent among the 19 to 21-year-old age group, with 54 cases per 100,000 people.

Dr Daisy Fancourt, associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology, and Susan Michie, professor of health psychology and the director of the Centre for Behaviour Change, both at University College London, attacked the criticism aimed at young people.

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