As an asthmatic, seeing people not take lockdown seriously terrifies me

‘Being young doesn’t make you invincible’

Last week the Prime Minister announced the closure of all schools and ordered pubs, restaurants, cafés and clubs to close their doors in an attempt to control the outbreak of COVID-19.

You’d think this would be enough to demonstrate the gravity of the situation the UK is currently facing, but no. Just hours after the Prime Minister warned the public to avoid large gatherings, the BBC filmed students celebrating St. Patrick’s day at a pub in Newcastle, the Impy in Exeter was packed with people, and hundreds gathered in Concert Square in Liverpool. 

Even after the pubs closed their doors it was pretty obvious that young people were still refusing to social distance. I’ve been invited to three house parties in the last week and watched in despair as my friends flit between each other’s houses. PSA: moving your social gatherings into your house does NOT count as social distancing.

This reluctance to comply with social distancing measures is the reason the Prime Minister put the entire country on lockdown on Monday. Yet still young people aren’t taking this seriously. Uni students seem to think they’re untouchable – if our bodies can handle a litre of vodka on a night out then this virus doesn’t stand a chance right? But as an asthmatic who would likely be hospitalised if I were to contract COVID-19, this ignorance terrifies me.

Social distancing outlines the measures you can take to limit social interaction between people – reducing the likelihood of the disease spreading. These include things like avoiding contact with someone displaying symptoms of COVID-19, working from home, avoiding large gatherings in public spaces, such as pubs, restaurants and theatres, and avoiding the use of public transport.

And I hate to break it to you, but this also includes house parties or going to hang out at your mate’s place.

By putting the country on lockdown the government have made it pretty easy to understand what you can and can’t do so there’s really no excuses for not complying with these measures.

Social distancing is vital to overcoming this virus and you’re not exempt because you’re young and healthy. For a start social distancing reduces the strain on the NHS by preventing everyone from contracting the virus at the same time, but it’s also important to realise that being young doesn’t make you invincible.

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation issued a warning to young people ignoring government advice. He said: “Although older people are hardest hit, younger people are not spared.”

He added: “I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you. Even if you don’t get sick the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”

Take me for example. I’m 21, and fit and healthy in most respects. I regularly exercise, eat a balanced diet (with the exception of the odd Pot Noodle) and my immune system is pretty decent. But like thousands of other young people in the UK, I’m asthmatic, putting me in the high-risk category.

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways. On a day-to-day basis my asthma is mostly under control thanks to Beclametasone ‘preventer’ inhalers, and any flare-ups can be controlled with Salbutamol ‘reliever’ inhalers. But the COVID-19 virus attacks the respiratory system which can worsen asthma symptoms and induce potentially fatal asthma attacks.

Living in a house with five other people, if my housemates chose not to practice social distancing like so many uni students are doing, I would inevitably contract the virus, putting my life at risk.

Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate chair and professor of health science at Ball State University said: “You are playing with fire if you visit friends. At this point, we have to act like everyone is infected. You can be a risk to yourself, your family, your friends, and the entire community.

“The only people you should be seeing are those you can’t avoid: those living with you before this pandemic started and stable relationships like a significant other.”

Kirsten Hokeness, a professor and chair of the Department of Science and Technology at Bryant University added that even by getting together in small groups “you run the risk of giving the virus one more chance to persist in the population.”

I’ve been lucky that my housemates are considerate and have put my health first over the past few weeks; the moment my housemate’s boyfriend displayed symptoms of COVID-19, she chose to self-isolate at his house, spending her 21st birthday in quarantine to prevent spreading the virus to the rest of us. But there are so many people out there who aren’t so selfless and are putting lives like mine at risk for the sake of a house party.

I understand that these measures are disruptive and frustrating, there’s nothing I’d like more right now than to be getting ready for a night out with my friends, or to be sunbathing in a pub garden with a cider. But they are essential to protecting the lives of those vulnerable to the virus, and at the rate COVID-19 spreading in the UK, it is irresponsible and selfish not to stay home and practice social distancing.

I’m not alone in being young and high risk; my sister has chronic asthma which has hospitalised her with near fatal attacks on multiple occasions, I have friends who are diabetic, friends that suffer from cystic fibrosis, and I know people with various other immunosuppressant illnesses which put them at risk.

None of us look vulnerable but by not staying home during this lockdown you are putting each of our lives at risk. So please, before you start planning that next house party or a trip to see your boyfriend, think about those who might not recover if you were to pass coronavirus onto them – the elderly, the vulnerable, and most likely one of your friends too.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

• QUIZ: How good actually are you at social distancing?

• What is social distancing and how do I do it at uni: A guide

• BBC filmed students drinking in Jesmond as an example of not caring about coronavirus