Australia

'We will definitely be going out': Why young Australians are struggling with the coronavirus shutdown

Some younger Australians have ignored strict self-isolation and social distancing rules to maintain their social life. Source: AAP

The notion of being stuck at home, unable to visit friends, or go out for fun, is having an impact on many Australians - especially young people.

Adolescents have become the subject of criticism during the coronavirus shutdown for reportedly disobeying social distancing rules, and putting themselves, and others at risk.

People have taken to social media to vent their frustrations after spotting young groups socialising in public places such as parks and beaches.

Police officers inform beachgoers that the beach is closed at Brighton Beach in Melbourne.
Police officers inform beachgoers that the beach is closed at Brighton Beach in Melbourne.
AAP

Police have also been breaking up large gatherings that take place at private residences. 

'Normal developmental trend' 

Director of the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University Professor Jennie Hudson told SBS News isolation is particularly difficult for this age group, as they crave social interaction.

"Developmentally this is a time when young people are more connected to their friends, they spend less time with their families and friends are really oxygen in this age group,” she said.

“It's particularly difficult when you get disconnected from something that's so critical."

Prof Hudson said it’s also important to acknowledge the vast majority of young people are indeed following the rules.

Some young people have been disobeying strict social distancing rules.
Some young people have been disobeying strict social distancing rules.
AAP

But for those who aren’t, ignoring the advice and restrictions set by authorities, even in something as unprecedented as a pandemic, is part of usual adolescent behaviour.

"We know during this time of adolescence that there is a greater increase in risky behaviours: more drinking, smoking, engaging in more negative behaviours.

“So it's just a normal developmental trend for people to be more involved in risk-taking behaviour during this time and this because of what's happening at a biological level,” Prof Hudson said.

One of the biggest concerns voiced on social media about young people during the COVID-19 outbreak has been that they are being 'selfish' - that they believe because coronavirus is statistically unlikely to cause them much harm, they don't need to take it seriously.

Prof Hudson said that mindset is quite common in young people.

"In adolescence, part of that process is that we become more individualistic and less focussed on others around us and more focussed on our own needs and not the risk to the community."

'We will definitely be going out'

For 19-year-old Declan, the coronavirus shutdown has been incredibly hard.

The apprentice tradesman from Sydney says socialising keeps him sane.

“It's pretty tough, I go to work, come home, sit inside, wait to go to sleep and then have to go back to work,” he told SBS News.

Beachgoers visit Bondi Beach despite the threat of Covid-19 Coronavirus on Friday, 20 March 2020.
Beachgoers visit Bondi Beach despite the threat of Covid-19 Coronavirus on Friday, 20 March 2020.
AAP

He's one of many young people who have expressed frustration at the recent nation-wide shutdown, which stops them from visiting pubs, bars and sporting events, or even gathering with their friends at home.

Declan predicts he and his friends will disobey the rules.

"Honestly, we will definitely be going out and doing something, there's no way we'd be able to sit inside for three months,” he said.

New South Wales Police revealed on Thursday the state’s tough coronavirus enforcement laws will stay in place for 90 days, and there will be penalties for those who do not comply.

Declan said they will find ways to avoid the police.

Nursing staff from St. Vincents Hospital see local residents and backpackers at a COVID-19 testing clinic in the Bondi Pavillion on Bondi Beach.
Nursing staff from St. Vincents Hospital see local residents and backpackers at a COVID-19 testing clinic in the Bondi Pavillion on Bondi Beach.
AAP

"Next weekend it's Easter and we're all going to my mate's farm, there's about 10 to 15 of us, and we're just going to stay there the whole weekend."

Hostels under the spotlight

It comes as no surprise that backpacker hostels, which house dozens of young people from all over the world at one time, have been heavily scrutinised since the lockdown came into effect.

Living in close quarters, sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchens, they're being considered 'breeding grounds' for the virus - but many are being told they're not doing enough.

SBS News spoke to one hostel manager, who asked to remain anonymous, who said there's only so much they can do when it comes to young travellers.

"These guys don't really watch the news, they probably don't want to take it as seriously as the locals,” he said.

Young travelers in hostel bedroom.
Young travelers in hostel bedroom.
Getty

“So we just have to keep reminding them that it is very serious and outside of their little bubble, their little community in the hostel, they need to be taking these precautions."

He said the hostel has put signs up, separated seating arrangements, and halved the amount of people per dorm to try to comply with government regulations.

While most travellers have gone home, he said many others are now staying long term because they are stuck in the country.

Hostel workers 'on the frontline'

The hostel manager said people should look more kindly on the industry, given the complexity of the situation.

"When you look at it, we are at high risk, I kind of dread coming to work every day myself," he said.

"It feels like I'm on the frontline, obviously not to the extent of the nurses, but you never know who's going to walk through the door, or where they're going to come from."

Backpackers are seen in central Brisbane, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Backpackers are seen in central Brisbane, Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
AAP

He did acknowledge, however, the vast majority of backpackers have been very respectful, and proactive when it came to any new rules regarding COVID-19.

'There’s always the internet'

21-year-old Conor says most of the people he knows, understand why it's important to take it seriously.

"I am worried to an extent, because I don't want to get it, because it can't really hurt me because I'm young and healthy, but I don't want to pass it on to any of my relatives, so that can be a worry."

While he knows being stuck at home will be boring he says there are lots of things young people can do to keep themselves entertained.

"There's always the internet, puzzles, books, and I've got lego from when I was a kid."

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