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  • Elizabeth Czech

Young People in the United Kingdom Accused of Fueling the “Second-Wave”

COVID-19 is making a resurgence across Europe, with cases roughly doubling every seven days in the United Kingdom. Sir Patrick Vallence, the United Kingdom's chief scientific officer, stated that if cases continue to rise at this rate, he expects 50,000 cases per day by mid-October. While the number of daily cases has not reached such a dramatic height as of yet, cases continue to rise and new restrictions have been enacted. The government of the United Kingdom has been criticized in the past for inconsistency and confusion in restrictions and a failed test regime leaving the country with the highest death toll in Europe. The government, in turn, has blamed those not adhering to social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures, particularly young people.

While the current rate of deaths as a result of COVID-19 remains comparatively low to the spring rate, the rate of positive cases is relatively high compared to the spring. The government is attributing the current rise in COVID-19 cases to young people. Matt Hancock, the United Kingdom’s health secretary, is one of many government officials placing the blame for the high level of COVID-19 cases on young people. Hancock’s message to young people he believes are responsible for the rise in COVID-19 cases is, “Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.” Despite the large number of positive COVID-19 cases, the death rate and hospitalization rates remain low. The United Kingdom’s chief medical officer, Johnathan Van-Tam, is not optimistic that this will be a lasting trend. Van-Tam explained

that despite death and hospitalization rates related to COVID-19 being low, the high rates of transmission among young people will eventually lead to older and compromised people getting sick, which in turn will likely raise the death and hospitalization rates.

In response to the rise in COVID-19 cases, the government of the United Kingdom has enacted a new tiered system that classifies each region under one of three alert levels -- medium, high, or very high. So far, the Liverpool City Region, Lancashire, and Greater Manchester have been placed in the very high alert category, meaning gyms, bars, leisure centers, and casinos have closed. Many people, particularly business owners, are outraged about the new restrictions. However, others, particularly older people, claim that these new restrictions could have been prevented had people followed the national rules to begin with, echoing the government’s sentiments that COVID-19 cases are rising because of mostly young people who did not adhere to the more relaxed rules seen in the summer months. Headline grabbing stories, like the 23-year-old man who went to Ibiza, Spain, and violated the United Kingdom’s quarantine requirement and held a party, makes blaming young people for rising COVID-19 cases and new restrictions easy. In fact, some pubs have even banned service to young people, highlighting the generational divide between older and younger people being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Young people, for their part, reject the blame that has been placed on them for the resurgence in COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom. Headline grabbing stories like, “Young people in Leeds urged to be COVID-responsible after rise in parties” leads many older people and government officials to place sole blame for rising COVID-19 cases on young people. However, many young people claim that the truth of their role in the uptick in COVID-19 cases is more complex than these stories convey. Young people are the most likely to be asymptomatic, meaning they show no COVID-19 symptoms and may not be aware they are infected. Therefore, young people who may be infected but asymptomatic could potentially spread the virus even if following the national rules regarding COVID-19. Many people point to the government’s failed testing regime for the uptick in COVID-19 cases, rather than young people. Young people also point out that the government initially campaigned for young people to return to many normal activities, like going out to dinner, in an effort to keep the economy stable. They claim that it is unfair to place blame for the rising COVID-19 cases entirely on them when they received conflicting advice from the government.

The scapegoating of young British people in response to rising COVID-19 cases, on a broader scale has exacerbated an all too common phenomenon seen in countries across the world: the widening generation gap between older and younger citizens. COVID-19 follows a long list of perpetrators in the growing divide between old and young within the UK. The decisive Brexit vote in which the United Kingdom narrowly voted in favor of leaving the European Union, is one of numerous examples of a generational divide that was already beginning to grow pre-COVID-19. One estimate suggests that voters over-65 were more than twice as likely as those under-25 to vote to leave the European Union. While COVID-19 clearly did not create the generational divide between older and younger people, it has certainly exacerbated the problem in the UK. Older citizens and the government figures point to house parties and pub crawls that some young people have attended to explain the rise in COVID-19 cases. Young people reject this claim and fault the government for encouraging them to revive the economy by eating out and going back to work and failing to enact a stronger testing regime. The growth of generational tensions poses a significant challenge to the country given that cooperation on a COVID-19 strategy is an essential component to combating this virus.

With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the United Kingdom, the country is also experiencing another wave of generational tensions. The government's language and accusations against the youth in their responsibility for spreading cases has exacerbated a generational divide between older and younger citizens that started long before the pandemic. The United Kingdom is not alone in this trend. Countries across Europe and the United States are experiencing a rise in cases, and with that a larger amount of accusations against the younger segments of the populations for their responsibility in case spikes. At a time when country unity is critical to a successful fight against COVID-19, the international community would do well to pay attention to how COVID-19 has widened generations divisions within the United Kingdom.


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