Young people told to isolate ‘should be offered free mobile data and gaming’

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Young people told to isolate due to coronavirus should be offered free mobile data, streaming services and gaming, the government’s scientific advisers have suggested.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said compliance with COVID-19 restrictions was “substantially lower and declining” among people aged 18 to 29 compared to older age groups due to a “lack of trust in government”.

The experts have recommended that young people asked to isolate or stay at home should be provided with “good financial and other support, e.g. free mobile phone data, streaming and gaming”.

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The proposal is included in a paper called “increasing adherence to COVID-19 preventative behaviours among young people”, which was considered by SAGE on 22 October and published for the first time on Friday.

In the paper, the scientific experts said data suggested that young people “may have strong motivation to adhere” to COVID-19 restrictions “but this is undermined by lack of trust in government and lack of clear information”.

They warn that communications that “explicitly target young people risk defining them as the problem and thereby alienating them”.

“Spokespeople should thank young people for their sacrifices and contributions,” SAGE says.

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The group recommends “practical interventions” such as requiring universities to shift to remote learning immediately, and distributing free face coverings in schools.

SAGE also says that communications targeting young people should ideally be delivered by “trusted, non-governmental sources”, including “charities, celebrities, sports clubs, [and] commercial brands”.

Messages should include “accurate information on short-term and long-term consequences” of coronavirus, such as “long COVID” and “risks to loved ones”, the experts added.

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SAGE said the evidence backing its proposals included a YouGov poll in September which found around 60% of young people aged 18 to 24 supported the government’s measures for handling the pandemic – the lowest of any age group.

Data from the “COVID-19 Social Study” also suggested that young people have the “lowest levels of confidence in the government’s response”, it added.

SAGE also pointed out that young people are more likely to work in jobs with “high social contacts, and with less recourse to sick pay, which may undermine their motivation to seek testing and ability to isolate in response to symptoms”.

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The document was released after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed coronavirus infection rates among older teenagers and young adults in England appear to be levelling off.

However, the ONS added that the highest infection rates continued to be seen among that age group.

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