WHO says young people appear to be causing coronavirus cases to surge in some countries

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, March 2, 2020.

Stefan Wermuth | Bloomberg via Getty Images

World Health Organization officials said Thursday that young people “letting down their guard” appear to be causing coronavirus cases to surge in some countries, and while their risk of death is generally low, they may suffer from long-term symptoms even after they recover.  

“We have said it before and we will say it again, young people are not invincible,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva. “Young people can be infected, young people can die and young people can transmit the virus to others.” 

Convincing younger people across the globe that the virus could pose a serious risk for their health remains a challenge for WHO, Tedros said.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said the majority of younger people tend to have milder forms of Covid-19, but that’s not always the case. Some younger people have gotten seriously sick and died. 

“Even people who have mild disease, some of them will go on to recover just fine. But some of them have longer-term effects, and we are just starting to really learn about this,” she said, adding that some suffer from extreme fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty resuming normal activities like going back to work or the gym — even after they recover.

“We are learning what that means,” she said. 

Kerkhove said there are a number of things young people can do to prevent spreading the virus, including washing their hands, practicing social distancing, wearing a mask and avoiding crowded places like bars.

“We are consistently seeing night clubs as amplifyers of transmission,” she said. “This is very unfortunate because know that young people want to resume normal activities. But there are situations where the virus, if it’s present, can take hold and transmit efficiently.” 

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates. 

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