Coronavirus may stick to young people ‘like a tornado with a long tail,’ WHO warns

WHO regional director for Europe ‘very concerned’ younger age groups regularly appearing among new recorded cases

Samuel Lovett
Thursday 20 August 2020 13:09 BST
World nowhere near immunity levels to stop coronavirus transmission, warns WHO

Coronavirus may stick to young people “like a tornado with a long tail,” the World Health Organisation has warned, amid growing evidence that younger generations are driving spikes in infections across Europe.

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, told a press briefing he is “very concerned” that younger age groups are regularly appearing among new cases recorded on the continent.

“Young people are at the forefront of the Covid-19 response and they have a very powerful message to convey through their behaviour and their communication,” he said.

“Low risk does not mean no risk, no one is invincible and if you do not die from Covid it may stick to your body like a tornado with a long tail.

“While young people are less likely to die than older people they can still be very seriously affected, this virus affects organs throughout the body.”

In England, the most recent data from Public Health England shows that the 15-44 age group currently has the highest rate of infection of any other group – excluding those over 85.

A recent pre-print study from Imperial College London also found that of some 120,000 swabs taken from people in England in May, the highest levels of infection were recorded among those aged 18-24.

Similar developments have been reported in Luxembourg and Croatia, where incidence in young groups is clearly rising. There have also been slight increases in the infection rate among young people in Austria, Denmark, Slovakia, Spain and Estonia.

On the basis of these trends, experts have warned that a second wave could target younger generations.

The first wave of Covid-19 has predominantly affected elderly people, those with underlying health conditions and ethnic minority groups.

But scientists fear young people enjoying their summer will be hit next – as was the case with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Last month, professor Roger Kirby, president elect of the Royal Society of Medicine, told BBC Radio 4: “The winter is coming – to use a quote from Game of Thrones – and almost certainly a second wave of this virus is coming.

“What we saw in 1918 was the virus change, you know, the second wave was different from the first wave and it affected a different group of people, predominantly younger people.”

Dr Kluge also told BBC Radio 4 last month: “We are receiving reports from civil and health authorities of a higher proportion of new infections among young people.

“So for me the call is loud enough to rethink how to better involve the young people in response and engage next to them.

“They have a responsibility towards themselves, their parents, grandparents and communities and we do know how to adopt good healthy behaviours so let’s take advantage of the knowledge.”

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