Coronavirus: Scientists warn young people not to be complacent as deaths rise

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The government’s top scientific advisers have warned young people not to be complacent over Covid-19 as they urged the public to keep up social distancing measures to protect themselves.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the vast majority of people in all age groups would recover but it was a mistake for young people who are healthy to think they would all just “breeze through” the pandemic.

He spoke before latest figures revealed that a further 29 people who tested positive had died in England, taking the UK total to 137, and the Bank of England slashed interest rates to a new historic low.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said everyone must now follow the advice for social distancing, and socialising in pubs and clubs must stop.

Prof Whitty told reporters at a central London press conference: “It is clear that children get this disease much less strongly than adults, I think the data on that is pretty strong now, and it certainly is the case that the majority of those that end up dying sadly are people who tend to be either in the later part of their lives, usually quite elderly, or those with pre-existing health conditions.

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“But there are also some young people who have ended up in intensive care or who have ended up with severe disease around the world.

“I think it’s important that we don’t give the impression that every single person who is young and healthy is just going to breeze through this.”

He said the “great majority” of people will suffer no symptoms or mild to moderate symptoms, but a very small proportion of young people “will have severe disease even though they are young and healthy”.

Prof Whitty continued: “It’s important we’re clear in not trying to say ‘really, really worry’, but we also need to be clear in saying this is not a trivial infection for everybody, even if they are a young adult.”

Vallance urged people to follow the measures set down by the government, saying: “Unless everybody looks at the measures that have been introduced by the government on trying to encourage social distancing, unless everybody does that it doesn’t have the effect.

“And so what we absolutely shouldn’t encourage is the idea that young people somehow can ignore it because they are going to be fine.

“The mixing in pubs and restaurants and so on that is part of allowing the disease to spread needs to stop and it needs to stop among young people as well as older people.”

Turning to the science that is underpinning advice to the government, the pair stressed it is not absolute as more is learnt about the virus and how it behaves.

Coronavirus cases in the UK
(PA Graphics)

Vallance said it was “not absolute science, it’s modelling, it’s a prediction”, adding that it had been made “crystal clear to the politicians” that there were uncertainties around the science and confidence intervals.

Prof Whitty said that in the long term a vaccine was likely and, over time, science would come up with longer-term solutions as to how the virus could be managed.

He said people could die directly and indirectly during an epidemic as he stressed it was important to keep the strain on the health service as low as possible.

“They die directly of the infection, unavoidably, best medical care, sadly this is still going to happen for some people,” he said.

“But also they can die because the health service they are in is overwhelmed and therefore there’s an indirect death because there’s a difference between what could happen with health and what we were able to provide in this situation.”

It comes as:

– The Bank of England cut interest rates to 0.1% and unleashed another £200 billion to boost the economy in its second emergency move in just over a week

– Downing Street dismissed suggestions of a travel ban in and around the capital, with the prime minister’s official spokesperson saying: “There are no plans to close down the transport network in London and there is zero prospect of any restrictions being placed on travelling in and out of London.”

– The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead a virtual service on Sunday, which will be broadcast on all BBC local radio stations.

– The government published its Emergency Coronavirus Bill on Thursday morning setting out measures aimed at slowing the spread and supporting the NHS and workers. The legislation enables action to increase the available health and social care workforce, ease the burden on frontline staff, contain and slow the spread of the virus, manage the deceased with respect, and support and protect people through the crisis.

Earlier, education secretary Gavin Williamson said the government will issue guidance on Friday on how pupils unable to sit their GCSEs and A-levels because of school closures will be awarded their grades.

A list of the key workers whose children can still go to school will also be released later, he said.

On Wednesday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced school closures across the UK but promised the children of NHS and police workers and supermarket delivery drivers would still be able to attend, as would vulnerable children.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Williamson said there will be a “proper and fair system” of appeal for students who are unhappy with the results they are given as GCSEs and A-levels are cancelled.

He said: “We will be doing everything we can do to make sure they get their results in August as they will be hoping to, but we can’t predict as to how they are going to unfold.”

Earlier, former prime minister Gordon Brown urged chancellor Rishi Sunak to do “considerably more” to protect people’s jobs by the weekend.

Brown told the Today programme: “He says he’ll do more but the package should be out now to avoid redundancies being forced upon companies over the next day or two.

“I think a lot of company directors will be looking at the moment to how many staff they are going to shed in the next few days, next few weeks.

“And I think we need to step in now with building the confidence that we can keep people in work or keep people on short-term in work, and have an arrangement with people where they take some holidays but at the same time they are going to have income protection.”

In China, no new cases transmitted between people in the country have been reported for the first time since the virus emerged there in late December.

But cases have been reported from travellers returning home to China.

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