As the number of Covid-19 cases rises sharply in parts of Europe, health authorities from the UK to Spain are calling on young people to do more to halt the spread of the virus. This is how the situation looks in a number of major European countries and how it is being tackled.
In Spain, which on Monday became the first western European country to record more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases, authorities have been urging greater vigilance among young people for weeks. This month will also prove key as young people across the country begin returning to their studies after a six-month absence.
According to the latest official figures, 25% of new cases are being detected in people aged 15-29, while those aged 15-59 account for 71% of new cases. The most overrepresented groups are men and women aged 15-44 and women aged 89 and over.
Over the past week, the number of cases in every 100,000 in people aged 15-29 was 158.2, compared with an all-age average of 102.5.
On Tuesday, the health ministry launched a new campaign that aims to remind the population, “especially young people”, of the importance of handwashing, wearing a face mask and maintaining social distance.
The campaign, hashtagged #EstoNoEsUnJuego (#ThisIsNotAGAme) features a black-and-white video that riffs on a Spanish children’s rhyme and shows young people gathering to drink in the street before cutting to images of people in hospital – including an older woman being treated by a medic in full PPE – and, ultimately, to a picture of a coffin on a gurney.
“If we don’t follow the health guidelines, we put our lives – and those of others – at risk,” runs the warning. “Help us follow them.”
In Madrid, the worst hit Spanish region, indoor or outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned. The regional government, which has been criticised for its lack of test-and-trace resources, said last week that it would almost double the number of contact tracers in the region, from 560 to about 1,100.
While the governments of some regions have been imposing their own localised lockdowns on a case-by-case basis, Spain’s health minister has ruled out another nationwide confinement: “There’s no comparison with what we saw in March; the system isn’t overwhelmed”. SJ
In its most recent report, covering the week to 1 September, the health authority documented an “exponential progression” of virus transmission “mainly among young adults” and noted a “failure of young adults to apply prevention measures”.
It appears the biggest increase in new cases in that week compared with the previous one was a 44% rise among 0- to 14-year-olds – this was a week before the return to school – followed by a 33% rise among 15- to 44-year-olds, a 30% rise among those aged 45-64, and a 36% rise in those aged 75 and over.
On Monday, one TV channel showed videos of a number of packed nightclubs in Paris, where there were very few people wearing masks and zero social distancing. Restaurants and bars across the capital are very crowded during the evenings and again, young adults are still giving the bises(pecks on the cheek) and not keeping 1m apart. KW
Young people are playing a disproportionate role in a surging rate of infection, prompting warnings about the reopening of college campuses.
The section of the population more likely than any other to get coronavirus, and to expose others to infection, are those aged 15-24.
Ireland’s 14-day cumulative incidence of cases has risen to 34.7 cases for every 100,000 people, higher than the UK and Italy but still far behind Spain. Ronan Glynn, the acting chief medical officer, on Monday expressed “growing concern” at the rise, especially in Dublin and Limerick.
Without strict measures, reopening college campuses would multiply physical interactions and extend and amplify social contact chains among those most likely to become infected and to spread the virus, Seán L’Estrange, a social scientist at University College Dublin, wrote in a research note. “Colleges committing to recreating the ‘campus experience’ pose a very particular challenge to public health,” he added.