Across the UK, clubs have reopened, masks are no longer compulsory, and there is no limit to the number of people socialising indoors.
But despite the loosening of restrictions, doctors this week are warning a high number of young people entering Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and hospitals as many unvaccinated under-30s are socialising in clubs and bars – with the government’s full approval. While statistically, there is a low chance of young people becoming hospitalised from coronavirus – according to the COVID-19 research database, a 25-year-old woman has a 1 percent chance of ending up in hospital, while a 25-year-old man has a 1.6 percent chance – doctors have warned that young people must still protect themselves or risk falling seriously ill.
As the final adult age group to access the vaccine, and with a slightly higher vaccine hesitancy than older age groups (though still relatively low), young people with no underlying health conditions are finding themselves unexpectedly in hospital or ICU units.
Before Louise Barton, 27, fell ill with COVID in May, she had been relatively relaxed about the virus.
“I think I've always had this cockiness that I would be fine if I caught it,” Barton told VICE World News. “I hadn't ever had any problems medically, especially with lungs, or asthma or anything like that. I was in that mindset that it will be fine, when it really wasn't at all.”
Initially, after contracting the virus, Barton grew ill with symptoms of a high fever and a cough. She recovered for a few days, but then grew ill again. Having lost a grandfather to COVID, her mother bought her an oximeter to check her oxygen levels. The NHS recommends coming into hospital if you register below 92 percent blood oxygen levels. Barton was registering 85 percent, and she was unaware that fluid was building up in her lungs. Still, she didn’t quite believe anything was wrong.
“I called 111 [the NHS’s non-emergency line] because I just felt like it was so dramatic,” she said. “I actually felt worse physically the days before.”
Barton was admitted to the hospital after her lips started to discolour and she was advised by 111.
“When I went to hospital they did all the tests – X rays and CT scans, etc, etc. They saw quite a lot of damage to my lungs. I think they said about a third had been scarred or damaged.”
After five days, Barton was discharged, but she worries about the reopening of the country with many still unvaccinated young people. “I think I wish I had known a bit more about it.”
Amongst the young and unvaccinated, students have been some of the hardest hit during the pandemic – crammed in halls with numerous housemates, unable to get the vaccine and often forced to quarantine without adequate support. Ammaarah Faisal, 22, was taken into hospital in June after contracting coronavirus while at university in Durham. Although the symptoms of COVID were severe, she became iller because she struggled to access food and help while in her student halls. After days without drinking enough or eating enough, bed bound with the virus, she was taken into hospital by paramedics.
“I was in contact with my mum because she was calling to check up on me, and I just kept saying to her ‘I'm so scared. I don't really don't want to go to hospital, I don't want to die,” says Faisal. “I got in the ambulance, they took me to hospital and then it was honestly terrifying. They wheeled me in and the corridor of the hospital of A&E was lined with students on gurneys. I've never seen anything like it – it was genuinely like some sort of post-apocalyptic movie.”
Faisal sustained damage to her liver and was given treatment for severe dehydration. She was released after a day – but still has to go for regular check-ups to ensure her liver is recovering.
The experience has meant she hasn’t taken advantage of the UK reopening – such as the new freedom to go clubbing: “I feel much more responsible to people I'm around”, she says.
For some, hospitalisation can become serious enough to be admitted into the ICU. Yewande Adeniran, 27, was admitted to hospital in November with low oxygen.
“My experience wasn't the best because of different medical racism. They just didn't take it seriously at all – I was ringing for help every 20 minutes and people came in to say, ‘Oh, you're fine.’ I was like, ‘I'm literally not fine.’ When it got late into the night, it turned out I really wasn't fine.”
Adeniran was eventually admitted to ICU, where she stayed for a week. Now, she’s still recovering from the effects. “I feel terrible. I have long COVID. All of that could have been prevented if all the other people listened to me.”
With society reopening and Adeniran’s mild concerns about the vaccine are gone. “I was hesitant before because of medical racism,” she says. “But I've had my first one now. I just think people aren't taking it seriously enough.”