IN the past week, young people have been getting the blame for a resurgence in Covid cases across Europe.

Dr Hans Kluge, the Europe regional director for the World Health Organisation said it had been receiving “reports from several health authorities of a higher proportion of new infections among young people”.

“What we do know, is that it’s a consequence of change in human behaviour...for me, the call is loud enough to rethink how to better involve young people,” said Dr Kluge.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that around half the Covid cases detected in Scotland last week were among people aged 20 to 39.

In Spain, the 15-29 age group has accounted for the bulk - 22 per cent - of Covid cases since May 11, compared to less than 5% pre-May 11.

The same trend has been happening the world over as soon as lockdown measures were eased.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the median age of positive Covid-19 cases in the state had flipped from 65 in March to 35 by late June, a trend that led Dartmouth University biology Professor Erin Bromage to describe the situation among 18 to 44-year-olds to CNN as a “smouldering fire”.

He said: “Their social networks, their employment, is allowing them to mix at a higher rate, and we’re seeing the infection rate - especially in Texas, Florida and Arizona - just skyrocketing in that demographic.

“It’s just that smouldering fire - but as more of them get infected, the chance of them interacting with the vulnerable population increases and hits that vulnerable population, and then the inferno just begins.

“That’s when we end up with lots of sickness and lots of disease.”

The problem for politicians and public health experts is how to persuade a vast swathe of the population to take the threat of coronavirus seriously when, in reality, they are extremely unlikely to become critically unwell, let alone die.

According to a study by experts in epidemiology and infectious disease at Stanford University, the risk of someone under 65 dying in the UK from Covid was equivalent to the chances of them dying in a car crash - but only if they drove 141 miles every day.

Across Europe and Canada, depending on their age and where they lived, under-65s were between 30 and 100-times less likely to die from the virus than those over 65.

The large majority of the deaths that do occur in this "non-elderly" population are among people with other underlying conditions, such as severe asthma, kidney failure, or diabetes, or who have immune deficiencies.

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In Scotland, based on death certificates, there have been just 28 Covid deaths (out of a total of 4208) among those aged 15 to 44, and none in anyone younger.

The incidence of Covid-related intensive care admissions in the 15 to 44 age group in Scotland is 3.2 per 100,000, compared to 41.9 for those aged 65 to 74.

As the authors of the Stanford University study state: “For healthy non-elderly people, the risk of dying from Covid-19 in the first half of 2020 was very small.

"This is in stark contrast with many news stories that focus on the demise of young people and the panic and horror that these widely reverberated stories are matter what strategy is selected for addressing COVID-19 in the current or future epidemic waves, it should include special emphasis in protecting very elderly individuals.”

And there's the rub: the more young people - who are nonetheless equally capable of catching and spreading the infection, often without symptoms - flout the rules, the more cases will increase, and the more chance there is of the virus eventually reaching people who will get sick.

But it is very challenging psychologically to link apparently harmless behaviour, such as sitting too close to too many people in a pub, to the potential to set off a chain of events that could culminate in a stranger's hospitalisation.

“It’s about our risk to others, and that might make it a little more difficult to understand,” says Cynthia Rohrbeck, an associate professor in clinical and community psychology at George Washington University.

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Human judgment is also clouded by optimism bias: the tendency to believe you are less likely than others to experience something negative.

In February, researchers polled 4,348 people in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland and found half of them believed they were less likely to get the coronavirus than others, without any sound evidence for that belief.

Our behaviour is also governed by the reward principle: put simply, we are more likely to 'follow the rules' if we perceive a personal reward, or benefit, to our actions.

Not getting sick might be a reward - but if you already know that the statistics are stacked in your favour and, as time goes on, you don't fall ill, the motivation to comply flags.

In trying to keep a lid on the pandemic as lockdown eases, we essentially face an uphill battle against human psychology. Unfortunately, tougher restrictions on socialising look inevitable.