Britain’s young adults are partying like the pandemic is already over

When it came to England’s so-called “Freedom Day”—the day when all COVID-19 restrictions were dropped—the freedom seems to largely have extended to one group: 18 to 24 year olds.

A survey released Monday by YouGov found that mask wearing by that age group fell from 58% before July 19, to 46% afterwards, when mandatory mask wearing was dropped for most situations. Every age group above 24 has continued to wear masks at essentially the same rate as before restrictions were dropped.

Freedom Day also allowed nightclubs to reopen, and the survey found that young people were the most likely age group to have been to a crowded place since restrictions ended. While about 38% had been avoiding crowded places beforehand, that number dropped to only about a quarter of those surveyed after July 19.

The YouGov survey covers the entirety of the U.K., but the fully dropped restrictions only apply to England, with the other nations in the U.K. setting their own timelines for easing COVID-19 rules. Nonetheless, it shows that young people’s behavior across the country has moved closer to a pre-pandemic “normal” than older people, particularly the elderly.

Young people have come under increasing pressure in the U.K., as the Delta variant has pushed up cases in recent months. A YouGov survey last week found that more than half of 18-24 year olds have either deleted the NHS “Track and Trace” app, or turned off contact tracing—by far the highest age group to have done so—to avoid being told to self-isolate due to exposure to someone who has tested positive for the virus.

Infections have been surging among young people this summer across Europe as the Delta variant spreads. In the U.K., those over 18 are eligible for their vaccinations, though many are still waiting to be eligible for their second jab. However, studies in both in the U.S. and U.K. has warned that young people may be more resistant to getting vaccinated than other age groups, in part because of perceptions that they are less vulnerable to the virus itself and more vulnerable to some side effects.

However, scientists and doctors have warned that serious side effects from the vaccines remain rare, and that young people can both spread the virus and are still vulnerable to COVID-19, with one intensive care registrar telling the Guardian that patients in intensive care units are getting “younger and younger.”

There are signs of hope, however. On Sunday, the U.K. recorded the fifth straight day of falling positive infections, raising the prospect that rising vaccination rates had finally begun to limit the spread of the Delta variant. About 70% of the U.K. adult population has received two doses of the vaccine, whereas 88% has received at least one dose.

Scientists warned, however, that the impact of easing restrictions on July 19—particularly for unvaccinated young people—may not yet be showing up in infection rates.

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