Volunteer Label writer Maddy Wright explores the attitudes, and the arguably disproportional blame, that young people and students have received amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.  

With the rise of a second wave of COVID-19 cases, frustrations are naturally on the rise as well. After months of being told to pull together to save lives, we are still facing what appears to be an uncertain future filled with masks, hand sanitiser and ad hoc lockdowns. Whilst it may be difficult to get anyone to fully admit it at the moment, there is undoubtedly a general feeling of tiredness and hopelessness after almost a whole year of dealing with the impact of this pandemic. At the beginning of the first wave, we saw communities supporting each other from a safe distance. Yet, in recent weeks we have seen a dramatic increase in finger-pointing, with politicians and the public alike suggesting that young people are predominantly responsible for the rising cases.

Despite the initial sympathy that was shown for the younger population, there has been a notable shift in attitudes towards 16-24-year olds. Condescending and unfair warnings continue to patronise the youth. For example, Health Minister Matt Hancock’s comments to Radio 1 listeners, telling them not to “kill their gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on”. Comments like this help to paint the picture of a generation of young people disregarding government guidelines, socialising in large groups, and spreading the virus at illegal raves and parties. A narrative of young people openly disregarding guidelines and the safety of others is becoming standard. However, this portrayal fails to acknowledge the majority of the young population who are doing everything they can to support the fight against COVID-19.

With the return of universities and schools coinciding with the rising cases, it is easier to treat young people, especially students, as scapegoats, when really, the true causes of the increase lie elsewhere. We are just as likely, if not more so, to comply with government guidelines; the recent Life with Corona survey reported 16-25-year olds in the UK were more likely to be compliant with hygiene rules and restrictions than any other group. Recently released SAGE recommendations show that the government was urged in August and September to act to address the rising cases being seen across all age groups. This was before the impact of returning schools and universities would only escalate the problem. Was it instead the prioritisation of the economy or general frustrations and ‘Covid-fatigue’ felt by all demographics, that is actually responsible for the rising cases?

As university students, we are possibly the most visible population. We are most present and part of the social media conversation, which makes us most easily identified and defined. It is easy to group us all as a collective and point to us as the cause of the rise in cases which appeared to coincide with our return to university. Instead of criticising students for returning to education, should it instead be asked why this seemingly inevitable problem of student socialisation wasn’t addressed by the government before September. Restrictions such as student pub-bans in Scotland, despite them remaining open to the wider public, resonate irony. Fears of being unable to return home for Christmas perpetuate an atmosphere of frustration, anxiety, and even resentment among the student population.

The over-generalisation of young people as ignorant and rule-breaking is damaging. It ostracises one of the largest demographics in the UK – one that is facing significant uncertainty and disruption, as well as struggling to adapt to the realities of coronavirus. This narrative tends to conveniently forget that amongst this group there are also those who are personally vulnerable due to underlying health conditions. Instead of pointing to specific population groups as the cause of the increased spread, we should instead be examining how, as an entire society, we can jointly help reduce risk. We need to remember that blaming and turning against each other is only further damaging and counterproductive to efforts to fight the virus.

Header designed by Frankie Stevens.


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