By Emma King
Life has returned to a semblance of normality. The vaccine roll-out has finally broken the correlation between Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths. Employees are returning to the office, holidays can be tentatively booked for the summer and fans can watch the Euros in unfathomably un-social distanced conditions.
I was not the only one who (perhaps naively) thought the situation would continue to improve with every stage of the roadmap unlocking. For the under 25s, however, the Covid-19 picture instead feels significantly (although temporarily) much worse, as the third wave rips through the unvaccinated young with unprecedented speed and ferocity.
Until now, the impact of restrictions on young people was far greater than the threat of the virus itself. But now that equation has reversed. We can legally socialise indoors again, but at the very real risk of having to self-isolate afterwards, or actually contracting Covid-19. In anecdotal evidence from the Covid-19 petri-dish that was Durham city last month, the Delta variant is making young people much sicker than previous variants. I know almost no one who contracted it asymptomatically, and many more who were bed-bound, feverish and afterwards wiped out with post-viral fatigue.
Periods of self-isolation continue to wreak havoc on our daily lives and wellbeing, our ability to forward plan holidays and hold down summer jobs. Covid-19 hotspots popped up in almost every university town in the country, ruining end-of-term celebrations for many. (A moment of silence for all those who wasted blood, sweat and tears organising balls, college days and fashion shows only for the plug to be pulled last minute.)
Even now the academic year has ended, cases are expected to continue rising across the country as restrictions are completely removed on 19th July. Some might be happy to accept the trade-off: the return of all personal freedoms at the risk of what will be, for most, only a short-term illness. But many feel understandably resistant. It is against basic human instinct to actively invite illness onto ourselves, or the dreaded periods of self-isolation.
My main question is this: did the government scientists know this spike amongst young people was going to happen? If not, the efficacy of their Covid-19 modelling is thrown into question once again. If they did foresee it, why were schools and universities not warned about it sooner? By the time Durham University (which at one point had the highest Covid-19 rates in the UK) attempted to impose measures to curb the spread (such as daily LFTs and weekly PCRs), it was already far too late.
Nor has anyone contemplated the economic impact of losing young people to self-isolation over the summer period. The under 25s prop up the hospitality industry, from both behind and in front of the metaphorical bar. Restaurants, pubs and cafes have already been forced into periods of temporary closure simply for lack of staff. Self-isolation rules need to change if there is to be any chance of economic recovery and universal personal freedom (for the old and young) in the foreseeable future. The success of Durham’s Test-to-Release scheme (whereby students could be released from isolation on receipt of a negative PCR) was extremely encouraging. This needs to be rolled out on a national level if we are to truly learn to live with Covid-19 in a ‘new normal’.
Hopefully, by September there will be sufficient herd immunity on top of the vaccine roll-out that the new academic year (for schools and universities) can plough on as normal. But there needs to be contingency plans for if/when Covid rears its ugly head again. Forcing under-25s to repeatedly self-isolate, missing work, education, events with friends and family, is no longer a tolerable solution.
Many of us have been fortunate to have avoided Covid-19 in its life-and-death extremities. But at this point, those extremities have been largely overcome. We must now focus on restoring everyone’s normality and sense of well-being. Get the entire population double-vaccinated and scrap self-isolation as soon as is physically possible. Our generation should not be forced to carry the burden of the virus any longer.
Illustration: Samantha Fulton