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investigative journalism

Young People and Covid-19: Are we to Blame?

man in gray dress shirt and blue denim jeans walking on sidewalk during daytime
PC: Kevin Grieve

Stereotype/blame

The last thing anyone wants to hear is that they are to blame for a global pandemic. For young people, we hear this regularly.

Between the media hounding us, to boomers tutting and shaking their heads while walking past, the stereotype is everywhere. Dr. Ronan Glynn, chief medical officer, acknowledged this before we re-entered phase 5 in October. He said:

Ireland has developed a “blame culture” which is now focused on young people.”

One reason for this is the public growing “tired and fatigued” of the pandemic. The result of this has led to finger pointing, with no real knowledge of the reality surrounding them.

What’s caught my attention, is that while these older people are pointing fingers, they’re rarely innocent themselves. I have experienced those cussing out a neighbor throwing a seventeenth birthday “party” of eight friends, yet organizing a communion “get-together” for thirty people in their back garden.

When cases began to spike during late August, Dublin consultant Laura Durcan spoke on this during RTE’s Today show with Claire Byrne. She said: “We need to think about brunches, lunches, dinner parties and communions too. We have to be able to personalise the message and modify our behaviour.”

On a separate interview on the Today show, minister for Health Simon Harris contrasted video footage released of a group of young people drinking and partying in the streets of Killarney, Co. Kerry, with the “Golfgate” scandal involving past and present members of parliament. Goflgate is the name given to the two-day event held by the Oireachtas Golf Society, and attended in the Station House Hotel in Clifden. 82 people partook in the event, involving top politicians. These included Minister for Agriculture, Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary, Supreme Court Judge Seamus Woulfe and EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.

This event took place the day after new restrictions were put in place late August, stating that no more than six people allowed to gather indoors, and 15 outdoors.

“There were no students in Clifden.” Said the Minister, when comparing the different age groups, and said there will always be people “who do stupid things.”

Restriction Breakers/Anti-Mask

man in black and red hoodie standing in front of people
PC: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

As of time of writing in October 2020, the Covid-19 case figures categorized by age from the month previous were as followed:

Covid-19 Cases – September 2020 – CSO

15 – 24: 2,008

25 – 44: 2,820

45-64: 1,976

Evidently, the virus is spreading amongst young people. And like Minister Simon Harris said, there will always be people who “do stupid things”, but these people could be young or old. So if young people aren’t to blame, the question is: where are these high figures coming from?

On 2 November 2020, I contacted An Garda Siochana to ask a representative to speak to me about what the situation has been like regarding dealing with complaints over young people breaking restrictions. They said:

“It’s safe to say, the Irish Public and young people have been highly compliant during the restrictions. This has stayed consistent over the past number of months.”

“Throughout the Covid response Gardai have used the 4E’s approach of engage, educate and encourage, and only where provided for and as a last resort, enforcement.”

A group of people who openly don’t support the government guidelines are commonly known as “anti-maskers”. This refers to individuals who do not believe in the benefits for themselves and those around them of wearing fabric face masks to cover their nose and mouth. These people are not refusing to wear them due to being medically exempt – they are either in denial of the virus, want to feel “in control” of what they do, or are filled with conspiracy theories about the government.

Whatever the reason, many of these people are angry about it. Their anger has driven them to a point of mass anti-mask protests, with thousands attending. These protests include banners expressing their beliefs (some photographed include “COVID-19 HOAX” and “NO TO MASKS; NO TO SOCIAL DISTANCING; NO TO COVID TESTING; NO TO COVID VACCINE; YES TO LIFE!”). These protests don’t include the wearing of face-masks or standing 6 feet apart.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend cloth masks for the general public, and most people have become accustomed to wearing one. Your face and mouth being uncovered means that the droplets spreading will not be caught within a mask if not wearing one, causing a higher spread of the virus.

So how many of these people refusing to take precautions are young people?

I contacted two organizations which organize these protests, Yellow Vest Ireland and Health Freedom Ireland. Despite reaching out on multiple occasions for a comment on this, neither of them responded as of time of writing.

I turned to video footage of these mass protests to see what I could find. One video I found, dated 12 September 2020, was estimated at having 1,500-2,000 attendants. The protest was organized by Yellow Vest Ireland. Video evidence shows no visible signs of young people participating, apart from children holding their parents hands or babies in strollers, who are too young to have a fully-formed opinion.

Schools

people sitting on chairs inside room
PC: Andy Falconer


When primary and secondary schools reopened this year late August/early September, after being closed nationwide since March 13th, this was a major cause for concern regarding case spikes.

Safety precautions were put in place for the return of students. For secondary schools, these include:

  • Face coverings to be worn at all times
  • Students sitting at socially distanced desks
  • Desks to be sanitized before and after use
  • No lockers or indoor canteens in use.
  • Increased ventilation (windows must be kept open at all times)

As cases began to spike during September, leading to the closure of restaurants and pubs serving food for the second time, people began to question where these cases were coming from. A section for school outbreaks is not included in the daily figures.

I sourced these statistics from Martina Broe, who runs a Twitter account dedicated to providing parents with information . These have been approved by the HSE. As of time of writing (30 November 2020) there has been:

  • 806 cases in Primary schools, with 478 school impacted (14.8%)
  • 793 cases in Secondary schools, with 378 schools impacted (52.0%)

Young people have no say when it comes to mixing in these situations, apart from students at third level who have majorly carried out their education this year online, apart from those partaking in practical work which requires in-person attendance.

I spoke to Aoife McLysaght, the Trinity College Professor of Genetics, who is unhappy that the blame is being cast amongst young people.

“As I work in Trinity, I have lots of interaction with that young age group. All of my students, from what I have seen, have been really good regarding complacency. Of course, they wish things didn’t have to be like this. They have been very careful – I work in the science labs, so they have those, but what they do on campus has been brought back to a total minimum.”

Public Transport

blue and black bus seats
PC: Lukas Medvedevas


Over the course of the pandemic, we as a nation have been advised not to take public transport unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is due to:

  • Decreased capacity on buses and trains.
  • Lack of frequent sanitization.
  • Essential workers being prioritized in order to get to and from work.

According to The Department of Transport, Oxford and Bristol Universities, a government-backed study reveals under a third of those aged 17-20 hold a driving license.

The likelihood of young people being able to afford transport of their own, especially with the financial strain lockdown’s have put on the country, is unlikely. Lockdown’s have also led to many job losses, the hospitality sector targeted in particular.

The overall minimum cost of learning to drive and getting a 10 year driving license is typically around 690 euro. This does not include any lessons outside of the 12-hour lessons you are required to take, or any insurance premiums which would be necessary if you wanted to drive your own car or a family car.

This means that young people are left with no choice but to compromise themselves in less government-abiding conditions by taking public transport when commuting, unless they are at a financial advantage and can afford to learn how to drive.

Long term effects for young people

woman leaning on door looking outside
PC: Kinga Cichewicz


In the illuminating My World Survey, published by UCD and Jigsaw in November 2019, young people were questioned about the parts of their lives that stressed them out to think about the most.

Following exams and finance, “the future” was among the top three stress providers for young adults. This was just months before our lives around us would change in all three of these aspects.

Due to school closures, the class of 2020 had no “real” leaving cert – only an estimated grade provided by their teachers and approved by the state. This was deemed unfair by many students, as their grades may well have been higher if sitting the exam in June had went ahead. Not to mention the once-in-a-lifetime experiences missed – no “last day”, no graduation, no debs.

As mentioned previously, the hospitality sector being impacted has led to financial struggles for young people employed by it. In Northern Ireland, it is estimated that 45% of under-25s have been laid off work since the start of the crisis, compared to 25%-30% for older age groups.

Young people’s lifelong dreams have been obliterated by the pandemic. Some had plans of studying abroad this year once finishing their school studies, which now cannot go ahead due to safety measures.

I speak for young people when I say, the last thing we want is for this pandemic to continue. We too are being impacted by this. Although we might not take a hit physically, we’re taking it mentally. According to the CSO, people aged 18-34 have the highest rates of those who are nervous, downhearted, depressed and lonely due to the virus. Yet, we all get targeted under the same category of being “selfish“, “inconsiderate” and “putting lives at risk“. Yes, there are people “who do stupid things.” But that statement is applied for anyone, no matter the age.

Sources:

Coronavirus in Ireland: Blame culture is now targeting young people, says Ronan Glynn | Ireland | The Times

Covid-19: Dublin doctor warns against blaming young people for rising cases (irishexaminer.com)

What is golfgate? Ireland’s political scandal explained | The Irish Post

Harris and HSE chief warn against blaming young people for spread of Covid-19 (breakingnews.ie)

COVID-19 Deaths and Cases Statistics – CSO – Central Statistics Office

What does antimask mean? (definitions.net)

The Psychology Behind Why Some People Refuse To Wear Face Masks | HuffPost Life

Face Coverings and Masks (idsociety.org)

Thousands march through Dublin to protest face mask wearing (irishtimes.com)

Safety tips for returning to school during COVID-19 – Mayo Clinic

(2) Martina B #TogetherWeStandForOurSchools (@MartinaBroe1) / Twitter

Number of young adults with driving licences falls by 40 per cent | Auto Express

Covid-19 and the Irish Hospitality Sector: Impact and Options (pwc.ie)

Cost of Learning to Drive in Ireland – Money Guide Ireland

Special Report: Ireland’s young people ‘fear the future more than anything’ amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis (irishexaminer.com)

Coronavirus: Young people ‘face trap of world without work’ – BBC News

Social Impact of COVID-19 by Age Group April 2020 – CSO – Central Statistics Office

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