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Releasing young people could be best way out of lockdown, experts suggest

Allowing young adults in the UK who do not live with older people to resume their daily lives could get the economy moving again. (Getty)

Releasing young people aged between 20 and 30 years old who do not live at home with their parents could be the best route out of coronavirus lockdown in the UK, researchers have suggested.

The strategy could help to balance the health risks associated with coronavirus and help the economy avoid an “extraordinary recession”, according to a new briefing paper by experts at the University of Warwick and Warwick Business School.

The UK does not currently have an exit strategy for the coronavirus lockdown, implemented to protect people from the spread of the deadly virus. But as the crisis continues, the strain placed upon the economy worsens.

Allowing the 4.2 million 20- to 30-year-olds in the UK who do not live with older people to resume their daily lives could get the economy moving again, while protecting older people who appear to be more susceptible to severe cases of the virus.

Of those, 2.6 million are employed in the private sector and are more likely to lose their jobs or income during a lengthy lockdown. Releasing them to resume work would allow them to fulfil vital roles in the UK’s transport and delivery network, or open small businesses to stimulate the economy, according to the report.

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Keeping half of young private sector workers from being made redundant could generate an additional £13bn ($16bn) a year for the economy, the researchers found.

A separate study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that younger workers are likely to be hit the hardest by the lockdown, as they are nearly two-and-a-half times more likely to work in a shutdown area, with 30% of workers under the age of 25 employed in those sectors, compared with 13% of those aged 25 and over.

Andrew Oswald, professor of economics and behavioural science at the University of Warwick, said: “The rationale for lockdown is to save lives in the short to medium term.

“However, severe damage is being done to the economy, future incomes, unemployment rates, levels of national debt, and the freedoms we enjoy as a modern society. Before long, some balance will have to be struck.”

Another reason for the early release of young people highlighted by the report is that this age group could become increasingly restless over time and are more likely to break the rules of the lockdown, creating a domino effect that undermines public safety.

Read more: Travel and hospitality hardest hit as COVID-19 continues to ravage UK job market

The report warns that the government would also have to communicate the rationale for the age restrictions clearly to older adults to minimise resentment and police officers would have to enforce them. 

The research suggests that older adults could be released from lockdown through a strategy of staged release, using antibody testing to check that people had already recovered from coronavirus.

The researchers also pointed out that young adults are statistically less likely to die from coronavirus or develop severe symptoms.

However, unless a vaccine is found to completely eliminate the disease, the researchers calculated that this policy could result in an estimated 630 extra premature deaths.

Nick Powdthavee, professor of behavioural economics at Warwick Business School, said: “We support the existing lockdown strategy, but in the future it will be necessary to allow citizens to go back to some kind of normal life.

“Unless a vaccine is suddenly discovered there are no risk-free or painless ways forward.

“If this policy were enacted, there would still be tragic cases and some pressure on the NHS, but the effects would be far smaller than if the wider population were released.

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“It could allow our society and economy to move forward in the footsteps of the young, while allowing older workers to share the economic rewards by providing supervision, mentoring, and managerial assistance electronically through sources such as Skype, Zoom, and Facetime.”

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