During the pandemic, the news media has rightly focussed almost exclusively on the most vulnerable and those who have suffered directly, whether it is the survivors or those who have been unable to say goodbye to their loved ones. For the rest of us, the last few months have been simply surreal. It has been hard to articulate exactly what it is that we have all lived through – indeed, what we are still living through. This strangeness and uncertainty of the situation was heightened for young people, however, despite a lack of coverage.
Not for a number of generations has there been such a radical interruption of everyday life. Those of us who are in still in some form of education have experienced extensive changes to grading systems, teaching timetables and accommodation. Undergraduates in their final year have been forced to finish degrees at home that they have been working towards sometimes for four years. Cut off from the usual access to all of the university’s resources and required to respond to often daily changes in assessment structures, many undergraduates became justifiably despondent, feeling as if all of their previous hard work had been suddenly and radically undermined. Similarly, GCSE and A-Level students have been left at the mercy of bureaucracies as their final grades are to be decided for them without their taking the relevant exams. The same despondency reigns, students are robbed of the opportunity to outperform predictions or turn their current attainment around – in short, they are frustratingly stripped of their agency.
As many parents of will tell you, this despondency has only exaggerated the effects of being separated from friends and prohibited from enjoying the sorts of lifestyles that young Britons lead today. Expressions of this malaise dominated social media during the lockdown. One popular notion was that of ‘lockdown time’ – it was such a prevalent topic of discussion that the BBC devoted a lengthy article to the phenomenon. It refers to the strange experience of not knowing what day of the week it is, of seemingly losing whole days, or of time radically speeding up.
So, what happens when lockdown begins to be eased? Well, young people are the most eager to get out. This continues to be a problem. The months spent in lockdown, the freedom from work, and an interest in distracting themselves from the uncertainty that has been introduced into their lives – all of these factors make young people far more likely to break the guidelines. Considering that the virus poses far less of a risk to their health, it is understandable that young Britons are a little more reckless with the guidance. However, it is important to remember their role as potential carriers of the disease.
Balancing the need for young people to enjoy the summer with the need to contain the virus is paramount. Perhaps, rapid testing might provide a solution. Reliable rapid tests would enable young people to test frequently, ensuring that they are not infected before interacting with others.
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