The rolling back of all major covid restrictions on “Freedom Day” could harm the younger generation
We are now about to enter a new chapter in our national coronavirus response. The British government, led by its new health secretary Sajid Javid, has decided to go ahead with the removal of major covid restrictions on public life.
Mask wearing on transport and in shops will not be mandatory from the 19th July onwards, and the one-metre social distancing rule will be scrapped. Nightclubs and other mass gatherings indoors will also be allowed to go ahead without precautions.
The plan now is to move away from a policy of mitigating covid cases and deaths, and more towards managing the virus while continuing our lives, or as it’s put: “learning to live with Covid”. The argument is that with the relatively high vaccination rates in the country, the link has been broken between cases and serious illness and deaths. Because of this, coronavirus is now a much less deadly disease, that can be treated like flu, which, while very rarely killing the under-65s, during a bad season can bring about 30,000 deaths.
Speaking the day after the announcement of the rules to local governments, Chief Medical Adviser Chris Whitty said, “I regret to say that I think we will get a significant amount more long Covid, particularly in the younger ages where the vaccination rates are much lower.”
Whitty is right. While we do have high levels of vaccination— at over 95% of those aged 80-84, and half the adult population fully vaccinated, it’s the younger generation, mainly those under 25, who haven’t been given the opportunity to get a second dose just yet. Those under eighteen, even if they have chronic illnesses that leave their bodies immunocompromised, are not eligible for vaccination.
So far, no advice has been given to this group. This mass unlocking, which could, according to Sajid Javid, rise to 100,000 per day, puts groups who haven’t been vaccinated at much higher risk of contracting a serious version of the disease and having to deal with long Covid, leaving them suffering from long illness for potentially months.
Two-thirds of job losses in the pandemic were lost by under-25s
It is unclear what plans the government will put in place, if any, to cope with the many over-20s who are key workers, or work in customer service jobs when it comes to sick pay or other workplace benefits. Those in public-facing jobs have a much higher chance of contracting coronavirus.
Almost two-thirds of job losses in the pandemic were lost by under-25s. And the young largely have not accrued enough wealth to rely on savings. Government initiatives to combat this, such as the Kickstart Scheme, which helps 16-24-year-olds on Universal Credit, are not sufficient. This is according to National Youth Agency and Youth Employment UK, which published this report.
Many health and social care workers are also very young and have had to face caring for those dying during the pandemic, working extra hours to deal with the increased demand for care. This undoubtedly has added to the immense mental burden faced by young people during this unprecedented time, and while this has happened, nurses are facing a real-terms pay cut, and social care workers continue to be paid on average less than shop assistants, despite their work being more valuable than ever.
With the unlocking comes an easing of the rules on pupils isolating after coming into contact with a pupil with Covid. Right now, many people are still at university or school and have already massively increased their chances of catching the disease just by being there.
Nurses are facing a real terms pay cut, and social care workers continue to be paid on average less than shop assistants
A common argument from the anti-lockdown crowd is the impact restrictions have on mental health. Part of the reason behind removing the isolation of school children was because of the impact it had on children who had to isolate and be away from school for a long period of time. But we should consider the long term physical and mental effects of allowing coronavirus— a disease for which we still don’t know the long-term effects— to “run through” a young and still developing group. Data from the ONS suggests that 15% of 12-16-year-olds had at least one symptom five weeks after a Covid test.
Young people have been through so much in so little time, deprived in many ways of a normal childhood and early adulthood; formative years that are exciting, but tough, even in normal times. We might have to learn to live with Covid— especially with these plans meaning it’s unlikely to be going away any time soon. But we should consider how we live with it, and how what support we give to those who need it the most.