Covid-19 arrived like a hurricane sweeping across the globe. It ruined livelihoods and destroyed businesses. It stopped families from holding their loved ones’ hands as they took their last breaths. It kept elderly and sick people locked inside their homes.
But perhaps the cruellest trait of the new coronavirus has been its willingness to steal and disrupt people’s futures. It’s taken away what it means to live in the moment, to be spontaneous, to travel, to learn and live. In that respect, no group has felt its wrath more acutely than the young.
Now in the last year of my twenties, during those dark days in March when it felt like the world was ending, I couldn’t stop thinking about young people. I thought about those heady days when you first leave college, when the possibilities are endless and the whole world feels like it’s yours.
It was fine for me to spend the next few months locked down, I told myself. I didn’t mind not seeing my friends for a bit, because the truth was, over the past 10 years, I’ve seen so much of them. We’ve travelled to new countries together. We’ve danced in dingy basements. We’ve stayed up all night, only realising how much time has passed when we’ve stepped out onto the pavement and into the morning sun.
People in my age group are settling down now. We’re buying houses, renovating kitchens and growing herb gardens. When it came to the lockdown, most of us didn’t really mind staying at home for a while. We baked banana bread, listened to podcasts, did home workouts and had parties on Zoom – pastimes the 18-year-old versions of us would have no doubt found utterly tragic.
Before the virus took hold, we didn’t realise how much of a privilege it was to spend so much of early adulthood with our friends. We didn’t know how lucky we were just to knock on our pals’ front doors, to pick them up in a taxi, to sit next to them in the pub, and to wake up the following morning together, all sporting matching stamps smudged onto the backs of our hands.
But we were lucky. A whole generation of young people won’t get the chance to experience the same freedom we did. Coronavirus restrictions have kept them apart from their friends. They have been cut off from college, university, workplaces and sports teams. The mental health impact has been devastating.
It’s no surprise that when restrictions were temporarily lifted, young people flocked to meet up with their mates. In fact, the government encouraged it. Eat out to help out, they said. Ministers told us it was time to get the economy moving, to start enjoying the things we loved before the pandemic took hold.
Now, cases are on the rise again and young people have taken the blame for the failures of a government whose guidance through the pandemic has been riddled with confusion, incompetence and hypocrisy.
Young people have suffered enough during this crisis. During the prime of their lives they’ve been forced to stay indoors. They’ve had their plans and futures put on hold. They’ve had their university places torn away from them by an algorithm. The government cannot be allowed to lay the blame for an inevitable rise in cases at their door.