Source: CreativeCommons

The Opinion section is a platform for students to share their personal views about current issues and life at Oxford.

Our generation has had a resurgence of drinking, smoking, and recreational drug use. Young people just don’t care. You have got to be kidding yourself if you think we are going to wait a year for things to go back to normal.“- Anonymous

Whether these comments are backed up by statistics or by emotion alone is irrelevant. In either case, the fact of the matter remains: the current coronavirus-induced lockdown is testing young people to breaking point. And the government is running out of time to set things right.

That COVID-19 constitutes a once in a generation challenge is a given. Hundreds of people succumb to the illness every twenty-four hours and with the endless news coverage the pandemic has received over the last two months, it is difficult to go just a few moments without hearing about coronavirus in some form. We have even become accustomed to a colourful vocabulary that just weeks previously would have seemed alien and obscure. Furloughing, exit strategies, PPE, lockdown itself: over socially-distanced small talk with neighbours, many Brits engage in the most pressing of policy debates on a daily basis without even realising.

All these observations illustrate the sheer extent to which the outlandishly abnormal has, for the vast majority, become mundane, familiar. Indeed, the iconic maxim “familiarity breeds contempt” has never rung truer.

As the response to COVID-19 progresses, more and more information indicating government mismanagement has emerged. The failure to join the EU-led scheme to acquire essential medical equipment including ventilators, the frankly unforgiveable inability to match the WHO’s mass testing targets from over a month ago, the chronic lack of masks and other protection for key workers – all are potentially fatal shortcomings that will delay any return to ‘normal’ and all are shortcomings that, as today’s The Sunday Times feature suggests, a more proactive governmental response could have avoided.

Thanks to the superb work of NHS staff, of carers, of scientists and of academics, we will one day defeat COVID-19. It is just a matter of time. That said, and even when the days of lockdown are a distant memory, the impacts of the government’s countless blunders will still cast a lasting shadow over the UK.

Admittedly, the resulting landscape will negatively affect everyone in some form. But it is ultimately young people who stand the most to lose.

Even today, this predication is already starting to materialise. In a figure far above the national average, some 12% of under 30s have reported job losses as a direct result of coronavirus, and the fact that students are still expected to pay thousands in university fees (and interest rates on top of that) for a second-rate education experience make the situation for those shielded by the education sector equally bleak. When combined with the current long-term economic predictions now hailing the advent of the “worst recession since the Great Depression”, it really is no surprise that so many young Brits locked away in their homes report feeling anxious, lost, and forgotten.

It is for this reason that I maintain that the government is running out of time. As the initial, individual panic that surrounded the appearance of COVID-19 starts to dissipate, an even greater number of young people, deprived of social contact with friends, will begin to join the growing minority already flaunting the strict lockdown rules if they are not already. Whilst it is not to be endorsed or encouraged, the reasoning is tragically understandable – why should Britain’s youth heed to the orders of Conservative politicians for whom they did not vote four months ago, when those same politicians have done so little to earn trust with a deeply flawed response?

As society inches past the peak in number of cases, the future of the UK hangs in the balance. Unless drastic, scientific advances are made, to keep a tight control on COVID-19, state-sanctioned social distancing and strict limits on personal liberties will be a tragic, but necessary, reality. But to convince young people to comply with unpopular extensions of draconian but important measures, Britain’s ministers must not only accept their own mistakes, but actually demonstrate that they are learning from them.

That means results – and fast.

Ben Owen

A contributor to The Oxford Blue since its inception, Ben’s pieces explore topics as diverse as travel, literature, politics, and wine. His translation work has also helped foreign journalists share their ideas in the English language.