Labeeda Ahmed

It is now September of 2020 – nearly seven months since the lockdown took hold across the UK. A lot has happened since the carefree days before March, where no one could have guessed we’d be experiencing what is now reality. That reality involves remaining 2m apart from those outside your household, and not forgetting your facemask on the way to the shopping mall. So, although things seem to be inching back to “normal”, they could not be further from it. We might be itching to get our lives back on track, not to mention the weekly get-togethers with friends and family, but there are things that need our attention. 

The guidance has changed in just a few weeks; from socialising with our loved ones after so long, and scheduling meetups for shopping and dinner dates, to going back to square one – meetings of no more than six people. This step in the opposite direction comes after a major rise in positive cases (about 3,539 in one day to be exact). Between 31.12.19 and 11.09.20, there have been nearly 28.2 million cases of coronavirus worldwide, and just over 910,000 deaths, 41,608 of which have been reported in the UK. The R (reproduction) rate has risen above 1, which isn’t the greatest news, as it signals an increase in the spread of the virus, yet again. 

Though this isn’t the time to play the blame game, it’s worth mentioning that part of the responsibility for the recent rise in Covid-19 cases, has been placed with young people, especially those aged 20-30. The advice of Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, didn’t go down so well. His exact words were “don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.” Yes, socialising with non-household members raises the risk of spreading the virus, especially to vulnerable members. Yet, the only way young people would spread the virus is if they were going out of homes, and meeting people wherever they fancy: homes, restaurants, malls, even ice-skating rinks (yes, they are open). As of just a few days ago, this behaviour was perfectly acceptable, maybe even encouraged, according to some. 

‘Eat Out to Help Out’ was designed to “drive economic recovery”, by encouraging the public to leave the protective walls of their homes, and indulge in some good grub. Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said the initiative’s priority was to “protect 1.8 million” jobs in the food industry. The message was to “enjoy summer safely”, and show our “support.” A question comes to mind – isn’t that what young people, and many others, were doing? Considering the 50% discount off our favourite restaurants, it’s no surprise that “100 million meals” were enjoyed in the UK. It almost makes the actions of young people seem innocent, as they, along with many others, weren’t exactly doing anything wrong.

image from Unsplash

Smeelah Rathore, a budding medical student in her first year of university said “Personally, I’d say in today’s society young people are aware, so we know why Eat Out to Help Out was initiated – to boost the economy. Through social media, everyone is able to share their opinions and thoughts, so schools opening isn’t for the young people themselves. It’s for childcare, so parents can go back to work and continue to bring the economy back to where it was at the start of 2020; because if it was the education of us young people that mattered, our A-levels would have still taken place. The work we put in for two years wouldn’t have been prescribed by an algorithm. The sad part is young people are being scapegoated and they will be, because our voice can’t be heard as a collective – there’s no one to represent us.”

In a report by Toby Phillips, the link between the start of the scheme and positive cases is explored. Overall, the scheme achieved its aim of increasing customers in restaurants, but it also “encouraged extravagant levels of eating out”. The fact that the scheme’s prices were only valid from Monday to Wednesday, didn’t help the situation. It can’t be said for certain, whether the scheme itself was the cause of a sharp rise in cases in early September, as other factors also count, such as holidaymakers returning home. Still, it seems that the timing of this rise may match with the start of the scheme – those who tested positive in September, may have been infected with the virus in the middle of August. Again, it can’t be said for sure, but the eye-catching prices at Nando’s and elsewhere, lead us to believe that many of us were swayed in that direction.

Annchel Ashraf, a secondary and A-level teacher, shared her views on recent events, in light of the pandemic: “I don’t think it’s bad that the rules have been tightened, but now students have gone back to school, employees are being encouraged to go to offices, weddings and funerals can take place, so it is a bit confusing. As students are returning to school, this could result in more crowds in public transport and shops; the fact that they may be asymptomatic makes it harder to be aware of who may be infected; this increases the urgency for testing. “Blame” sounds harsh, but the opening of schools could potentially be a reason for the rise in cases. 

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“As a key worker in school, it is difficult not to worry, especially as test centres are fully booked, and there could be a delay in test results. If the government, which they did, had predicted another peak, more precautions should have been taken, i.e. increase testing capacity in centres. Otherwise, this lack of resources increases anxiety, and could force one to take time off from school, which is not beneficial.”

The rise in cases means that once again, our habits, routines and lives will change. This isn’t anyone’s fault; no one can, or should, pinpoint responsibility to another. Young people, like everyone else, followed guidance and made the most of their summer, within limits. On one hand, every life needs to be protected, but on the other, the economy couldn’t suffer anymore – it’s clear that this pandemic has led to the making of difficult, but necessary decisions. 

It is our collective responsibility to play our part in defeating the virus – hopefully, this will be the last time we find ourselves in a peak of infection rates. As Dr Waqar Rashid rightly said, young people have “exceeded reasonable expectations” by coming together with the rest of society, to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The real point of action is to find effective ways to go to work, study at university and maintain contact with our loved ones, safely, whilst actively beating the virus. 

No blaming. Instead, the start of a mission to make coronavirus a distant memory, as soon as possible, together.

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Last Update: September 14, 2020