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

A person wearing a full face mask in King’s Cross underground station in London Credit: Ian Hinchliffe/PA

The Government’s top scientific advisors 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 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.

People are being encouraged to 'stay at home' in a bid to limit the spread of the virus. Credit: PA

Also on Thursday, the Department of Health and Social Care announced £2.9 billion from its emergency Covid-19 fund would be released to help care for the elderly and free up thousands of hospital beds for the most urgent cases.

The Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir 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."

UK coronavirus death toll has risen to 137. Credit: PA

He added: "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".

Coronavirus-related deaths in the UK Credit: PA Graphics

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."

Sir Patrick 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."

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He added: "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.

Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty leaves Downing Street as the government is expected to publish an emergency coronavirus powers Bill. Credit: PA

Sir Patrick 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 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."