The UK government this week announced that new measures were to be introduced in England to curb a recent rise in COVID-19 cases. The measures, which will come into force from Monday, prohibit gatherings of more than six people in both indoor and outdoor spaces, with some exemptions including schools and workplaces. The recent spike in Coronavirus infections in England saw 2,286 new cases recorded in the UK on Wednesday. These new rules follow the introduction of much stricter ‘local lockdowns,’ which have come into place in several areas in the north of England, particularly in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, explained the necessity for tighter measures during a news conference on Wednesday. He outlined the importance of immediate action in order to “prevent another wholesale lockdown,” adding that the ‘rule of six’ is designed to “clarify, simplify and intensify the message so everyone understands.” Previous measures had received substantial criticism for being convoluted and unclear, and therefore difficult to adhere to as well as to enforce. Speaking to the BBC, Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated that the simplification of the rules means that they can now be “rigorously enforced by the police.” The new measures have, however, garnered criticism from some, who point out that the measures will effectively prevent larger families from gathering at all; something that Matt Hancock insists he isn’t “actively trying to do.”
These measures come into place at a critical juncture for the UK. Last week, a number of prominent scientists warned that coronavirus cases in the UK were rising “exponentially.” On Friday it was revealed that the R rate, which measures how many people an infected person is passing the virus onto, is above 1. This means that for every infected person, more than 1 other person is being infected, thus fuelling the growth of the virus. Hancock was quick to apportion the blame for the recent surge on young people for “socializing.” The UK’s recent coronavirus surge follows in the wake of similar outbreaks across Europe. Many European countries have seen a huge rise in cases in recent days and weeks, including France which saw a record daily increase of over 10,000 cases on Saturday.
Although many would argue that swift action is necessary to curb the spread of the virus, the measures themselves as well as their implementation leave a lot to be desired. The delay in implementing measures will, undoubtedly, provoke many in the UK to gather in larger numbers than they ordinarily would have: packing pubs, bars, and restaurants throughout the country. This merely serves to fuel the spread of the virus among younger people.
The reason for this however, isn’t that young people “aren’t taking it seriously,” or are “socializing irresponsibly,” rather they are merely more exposed to the virus. Young people are more likely to work in the industries that the government has rushed back into business out of economic necessity, and therefore are more susceptible to catching the virus and consequently spreading it. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that young people – many of whom are working in the hospitality and service industries and are coming into contact with hundreds, if not thousands of people daily, both at their workplace and during their commute – are spreading the virus.
Rather than simply scapegoating young people as “superspreaders,” it would be much more worthwhile for the government to focus on ensuring that businesses up and down the country are adhering to safety measures. It is by doing this that young people are protected, and the spread of the virus is curtailed.
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