Young people are being blamed for rising COVID cases but are sacrificing more than most

Despite young people being blamed for the rise in coronavirus cases, it is clear that they have given up a lot of important parts of their lives to follow the restrictions.

Birthdays, graduations, freshers and travelling were just some of the most valued event of young people’s lives that were sacrificed from March 2020, with many of them working or studying throughout this also.

Many young people stepping into their careers were stranded with their opportunities being taken away from them due to companies cutting down costs. On the other hand, students who were still allowed to train felt they were being taken advantage of.

Megan Sommerville is a 24 year old student nurse from Ballymena who said that she was asked too much from her placement for what she was getting in return. Megan explained , “in regards to how I feel the pandemic affected me and other student nurses was quite negative I suppose. We were expected to continue placement throughout the pandemic and if we ended up with virus ourselves we would have to make up the time we had to have off to isolate which was something completely out of our control”.

Student nurses continued their placement work during all coronavirus restrictions without pay and were also expected to give up any other jobs they had. Megan said “Some of us, including me who had jobs out of the hospital setting such as nursing homes had to give up their job due to the high risk of cross contamination from the hospital to the elderly people we cared for. That really affected me as I was then relying on my bursary of £430 a month which just about covered my bills.”

Although some student nurses were offered a sum of up to £2000 of compensation by the government to recognise their contribution to the handling of the pandemic, Megan said that “it helped a little but I think we should have got paid for the hours we worked as we were risking our lives everyday”.

Many other students faced struggles during the pandemic, with many being left paying rent for student accommodation that they were not allowed to stay in. Natasha Park, 21, is a business studies student from Ballymena who was a victim of this. “I was expected to live at home because of the lockdown restrictions as we’re not allowed to mix households, but I was still paying £350 a month in rent for my student house in Belfast”, Natasha said. “How is paying rent for a house I can’t even stay in any fair? As a student, money is tight enough already without wasting money like that”.

Caoimhe O’Connell, a youth outreach officer from the Oh Yeah! Music centre in Belfast had a similar view, explaining that “we have to try and have a bit of compassion and empathy towards to them with regulations maybe being broken by young people. For example, students were told to go ahead and pay full rent and that they would be able to use student housing and come to university. Then, they were told to stay at home, while they were paying the likes of £600 a month for those houses, and they’re not allowed near them”.

Caoimhe has seen how young people have been blamed in the media and said that “these students had their first year of university robbed from them but they still had to pay for it. It’s very easy to blame and demonise the young people but you can very easily find plenty of adults going to parties and still diverting the blame to the young people”.

Caoimhe works with young people who want to learn about the music industry such as learning to put on gigs and manage bands. “We were halfway through a volume control term when the first lockdown came”, she explained. “The guys were disappointed, but they learnt, and they adapted. They started to pre-record gigs, learnt how to do everything in a covid-safe way. Not only did they put things on hold but they thrived, they learnt risk assessments, they learnt about pre-recording and they took it all on the chin”.

Many young people that Caoimhe works with have sacrificed a lot over the last year. She said, We would have had a fair few that were 17 or 18 and they were looking forward to their first university experience, or they had holidays booked with their friends for finishing school, they lost out on their formals and then they lost out on their first amazing weeks of freshers. Anybody that has been to university knows that the first month is where you get your best experiences. Young people around that age seem to have been robbed of this formative period in their lives that you look back on in your 30s and you still talk about”.

Speaking about the blame put on young people for the rise of covid cases, Caoimhe said, “yes, there are examples of house parties but the young people I work with have, if anything, been more strict and more cautious because they know that they’re losing out on these formative years and they want to get back to it as quickly as possible. Although you see in the media the demonisation of students in the Holylands or young people meeting in the park, that is not my experience. If anything, my experience with young people is that they’re more strict because they have more to lose with this valuable time”.

The Oh Yeah! music centre’s tagline is “Opening doors to music”. Although their doors are currently closed, they are hoping to open them again very soon and are still running their projects online. If you would be interested in applying, visit: