Young adults have been warned they are “not invincible” as world health leaders said they can still die from Covid-19 or be confined to hospital “for weeks”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said “younger people are not spared” from the effects of the pandemic.
One in eight people occupying intensive care beds in Italy is under 50, and two in three are occupied by people under 70, figures show.
The WHO also said it has plans to create a pipeline to ensure continuity of supply for personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as face masks – after a “collapse of market”.
It asked members of the public not to wear medical face masks unless they are looking after sick people, to ensure they are available for doctors and nurses.
Addressing younger people, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Every day, we are learning more about this virus and the disease it causes.
“One of the things we are learning is that although older people are the hardest hit, younger people are not spared.
“Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalisation.
“Today, I have a message for young people: you are not invincible. This virus could put you in hospital for weeks, or even kill you.
“Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.
“I’m grateful that so many young people are spreading the word and not the virus.”
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 20, 2020
Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said: “In the over-70s, the clinical case fatality in those people admitted to hospital is up to one in five.
“When we look at people in intensive care, if you look at Italy, two out of three people in intensive care in Italy are under the age of 70. And 12% in intensive care in Italy are under the age of 50.”
On PPE supplies, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said: “Even the actions of an individual can affect the supply chain.
“We need to ensure that we prioritise the use of (medical and surgical masks) for our frontline workers, so we plead with you, if you do not need to wear a mask at home, as an individual in the community, don’t wear a mask. Don’t horde those masks.
“Make sure those masks are available to the frontline workers because they’re making very difficult decisions about extended use or potential reuse and we don’t want to put our healthcare workers under any further danger.
“So please, if you are not caring for a sick person at home, then you don’t need to be wearing a mask. Please prioritise the use of these masks for our frontline workers.”
But the WHO said there was some good news as China has recorded no new cases of Covid-19 in the virus epicentre Wuhan or in surrounding Hubei province.
Experts said it shows the virus “can be suppressed”.
The global health body also urged people to look after their physical and mental health during the crisis.
Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus said people are living a “new reality”, and gave people tips on how to stay healthy at home, including eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and sugary drinks, stopping smoking and exercise.
“If your local or national guidelines allow it, go outside for a walk, a run or a ride, and keep a safe distance from others. If you can’t leave the house, find an exercise video online, dance to music, do some yoga, or walk up and down the stairs,” he said.
The WHO has also launched a WhatsApp and Facebook alert service for the latest information on Covid-19.