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21 Sep 2020 5:23
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  •   Home > News > International

    Young people blamed for spike in coronavirus cases in UK and France

    Coronavirus case numbers are rising again in Europe. Some are blaming young people, who partied as usual this summer. But others say governments haven't been doing enough to drive infection rates down.

    Tom Clark thinks it is a bit of Aussie pragmaticism that is helping him break through the COVID-19 slump in France.

    The 36-year-old takes the pandemic seriously, but in his stride.

    He moved to Paris more than a decade ago, quickly making his mark selling specialty coffee. Now he runs eight cafes, three of which he has opened since the start of the pandemic.

    "I don't look at the case load and panic," he told 7.30 of the spike in coronavirus cases across France.

    "We have had viruses over the millennia, we have to just learn to live with them, and science is catching up. We will have some solution in the next year or two and in the meantime, at a company level, you can't stop. If you stop, you die."

    His business, Coutume, has lost a third of its profits during the pandemic, but warnings of a second wave in Europe do not alarm him.

    "I'm not trying to be blasé about it, but from what I gather the total death rate of all causes combined has not really been impacted year on year, and this virus has been more fatal among certain fragile parts of the community," Mr Clark said.

    Spike blamed on young people

    As the case rates begin to soar again in European countries like France and Spain, and across the Channel in the UK, the death toll has remained relatively low, for now.

    In each country, the renewed spread of the virus is being blamed on young people under 30 who, with restrictions loosened over the summer, ensured they enjoyed the freedom.

    In the UK for instance, on weekends police routinely struggle to control large street parties or raves with hundreds of people.

    Towns along the coasts of Spain and France also struggled to maintain social distancing as young people packed beaches and bars.

    But behavioural scientist Professor Stephen Reicher says blaming the young for the resurgence of the virus is counterproductive.

    "If you tell people, 'Look, everyone is doing this, stop doing it,' what people hear is, 'Everyone is doing it,' not, 'Stop doing it,'" Professor Reicher, who is a member of the UK Government's scientific advisory group SAGE, told 7.30.

    "In fact, I think there is a real danger in picking out one group and saying it is a problem of young people. I think there is a certain level of dismay, if not resentment, for suddenly being demonised when you've made sacrifices for so long."

    Professor Reicher said in his view the spike had happened because governments did nothing to drive down infection rates over the summer. He said targeted, clear messaging would be paramount in the future.

    UK and France rule out national lockdowns

    In recent weeks, the UK Government has moved to re-introduce restrictions in hot spots, mainly in the north of England.

    But the infection rate is now increasing across the board.

    To try and counter that, Prime Minister Boris Johnson slapped a ban on gatherings of more than six people, either indoors or outside.

    The number of new cases has been near or above 3,000 a day for the past 10 days, with the UK recording 3,991 new cases on Wednesday alone.

    Mr Johnson has ruled out a second national lockdown, as has President Emmanuel Macron in France.

    The case rate in France reached a new record of 10,000 in a day last weekend, and is still tracking at around 8,000 a day.

    The death toll in both countries has remained relatively low at about 30 people a day. At the peak of the pandemic, that toll reached up over 1,000.

    Doctor David Nabarro, the World Health Organization's special envoy on COVID-19, told 7.30 he did not think the rise in infections was a second wave.

    Instead, he said it was a "spike of infections that suddenly pop up".

    "Most societies in Europe really are being careful, and I don't expect to see many explosive outbreaks," he said.

    "What is important is that they are managing to contain these spikes superfast, and life can just about go on. It's not perfect and there are still great sectors that are in trouble, but things are beginning to return."

    UK will 'have a very rocky time'

    In the UK, according to Imperial College London figures, the case rate is doubling every seven days, and with the testing system under severe strain, there is a fear the outbreak is already out of control.

    Doctor Gabriel Scally, a member of an independent scientific group established to counter the UK Government view, argues it is "criminal" the gains made during the spring lockdown have been wasted.

    "We loosened lots of social restrictions, but there was nothing that we started doing that would have prevented it coming back," he told 7.30.

    "I think we won't have a second wave that is a replica of the first, but we will undoubtedly have a very rocky time in the UK over the next six months, and we will see more deaths."

    Dr Nabarro argues the lockdowns were a method of holding back the virus, and spikes were always expected once they were lifted.

    "My hope for Europe in the coming weeks is that we can gradually shift from the whole process being done through government instructions to a situation where people have worked out how to get on with their lives," he said.

    In Paris, Tom Clark will not let 10 years of hard work and determination drift away with coronavirus.

    "You have to continue opening and developing, you can't put everything on pause, because it quickly goes backwards," he said.

    "Over the last three months I haven't had a day of doing nothing, it's been adapting, putting into place new measures. So yeah, I see it as a challenge to overcome, simple as that."

    Watch this story on 7.30.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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