WHEN the first wave of coronavirus hit Britain, men and the elderly appeared most at risk and the over-70s were urged to shield.
Now, as we face a resurgence of the deadly disease, it appears to be targeting a new group — women aged 20 to 40.
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Government advisers warn this is likely due to more young females working in hospitality, retail and caring roles.
Dr Sara Kayat, a regular on TV’s This Morning, says the tendency for women to hug and kiss their friends and family also puts them at greater risk of catching the virus.
Prior to August, 56 per cent of the 130,000 Covid-19 admissions were men and 44 per cent were women.
But since August 1, 48 per cent of new patients have been female.
And Public Health England data shows more young women are testing positive for Covid-19.
It comes as the Government warned last week it could enforce more local lockdowns after introducing the controversial 10pm pub curfew and the Rule of Six.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University and a member of the Government’s Sage committee is concerned by the trend.
He said: “Something is wrong in the way society is being managed because women between 20 and 40 are currently taking the brunt of this second wave.”
Beautician Bethan Reddy, from Aberdare, Mid-Glamorgan, believes she caught the virus in the salon where she works after painting a client’s nails.
The 35-year-old, a single mum to sons Leuan, 14, and three-year-old Afon, says: “I only started working in the salon in September after lockdown measures were eased.
“I must have caught Covid in my first week. My boss and I fell ill after treating the same client. She came into the salon on a Friday coughing and spluttering. She wore a mask but was adamant it was a cold.”
Bethan agreed to do her nails while wearing full PPE, but by the Monday evening she was so ill she could barely get out of bed.
‘I could barely stand up’
Bethan says: “I really regret not sending her away. Initially, I thought I was tired from work but by 6pm I had to lie down in bed.
“It started off like flu. It was a lovely sunny day but I was cold and shivering.
“I took myself to bed early but I had a restless night with aches and pains.
“The next day I knew I couldn’t leave the house. I kept my children home and phoned the schools to warn them.
“As the day went on, I felt worse. I couldn’t get up off the bed. I had a headache and I felt dizzy.
“I could barely stand up. If I laid down, it got worse. The cough started about five days after I first fell ill.”
She ordered a home-testing kit and by the end of the week, the results confirmed she had Covid.
Bethan believes working in professions like hers put her and other women at risk — and urged beauticians to turn clients away if they feel uncomfortable.
She adds: “It’s no surprise that more young women are catching it now. Beauty and hair are so personal.
“Even if you follow all the guidelines, if one of your clients has Covid the likelihood is you are going to catch it.
“We wore gloves, masks, visors and aprons but we still got it.
“Young women might think they won’t get too poorly but they need to know that more young women are ending up in hospital with it and they need reminding that they might pass it to their loved ones.
“I really hope I can encourage other women working in similar roles to be extra vigilant.
“Don’t be afraid to turn people away. I kicked myself for not saying no.
“Coronavirus is a ticking time bomb for young women now. We have to be careful going forward or more mums, sisters, daughters and friends are going to lose their lives.”
Prof Semple said the risk to women like Bethan needs to be taken seriously.
He added: “We’re seeing a big excess. It’s clear to me that these working women are being exposed to the virus and that can only be because other parts of society are not taking heed of the guidance.
“The message is that Covid is real and it does affect younger adults.”
Dr Kayat says it is no surprise that more women are catching the virus, considering 75 per cent of the NHS workforce is female.
Women may be more tactile with their friends when they greet them. They’re not meant to at the moment, but they might hug or touch.
Dr Sara Kayat
She says: “We know they are going to be more exposed to Covid, not only because of all the people around them but because of how close they have to get to their patients.
“You see this with carers too, and in the hair and beauty industry where females tend to dominate.
“We know there was a big influx over the summer as people went out to get beauty treatments or haircuts after lockdown.
“Women working as hairdressers or beauticians would have been exposed to a lot of people. They are meant to be using Covid-secure practices, such as social distancing and PPE.
“But ultimately, if you are within a metre of someone who has Covid, your risk of catching it is high. That’s why wearing masks is so important for workers and clients.”
Dr Kayat says the school run does not appear to be such a big risk as evidence suggests children are not spreading the virus to parents. But she warns a woman’s tendency to hug or kiss could put them at risk.
She adds: “Women may be more tactile with their friends when they greet them. They’re not meant to at the moment, but old habits can be hard to break.”
And it is not just young women’s physical health that is at risk but their mental health too.
Psychologist Jo Hemmings says: “In terms of mental health, this is the age group that may be worrying about elderly parents or grandparents, concerned about children going back to school or teens off to university and, probably in many cases, the primary caregiver/organiser at home too.”
Jo says this level of responsibility means many women will give little thought to their own health.
She said: “It sets up a cycle of fear of going to work, contracting the virus, transmitting it and not being able to continue being responsible for one, two or three generations of their family, while knowing that work is a necessity.
“It causes a lasting rise in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which can cause lasting mental health concerns, such as a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness — all symptoms of clinical depression.”
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All women can do to reduce their risk is stick to the “hands, face, space” rule, and suggest others do the same.
Dr Kayat explains: “Until we have a vaccine, women have to be sensible and remain socially distant.
“Make sure you wear a mask at the right times, wash your hands and hopefully we can stop this worrying new trend in its tracks.”
‘Scared I’ll give virus to my girl’
CHARLOTTE WILCOX is a single mum who caught the virus in May while working as a flight attendant.
She now works in a busy pub and fears she might catch it again.
Charlotte, 27, from Birmingham, says: “I was very poorly, I couldn’t get out of bed for nine days.
“I had a fever and an awful headache that wouldn’t shift. I felt exhausted.
“At times, I’d struggle to breathe. It felt as if someone was sitting on my chest . I never ended up in hospital but it was frightening.
“I’m a single mum so had to isolate at home with my three-year-old daughter Aubrey.
“She didn’t get ill but it was hard for me to take care of her as I was so poorly.
“Family had to come and drop food off through the window. I was home for 24 days before I was well enough to go out.
“Although I was certain I’d had Covid, I wasn’t tested at the time.
“But as my work dried up, towards the end of lockdown I started doing voluntary work in a hospital and I was offered an antibody test. My results came back positive.”
Charlotte is now working in a pub on the outskirts of Birmingham and fears she may end up catching coronavirus for a second time.
She says: “The job means I’m in contact with lots of people so I’m really worried I might get it again and take it home to my daughter.
“We all wear masks in the pub and follow the government guidelines but I can’t control how customers behave.
“People seem to forget the rules after a few drinks. That causes me great anxiety.
“If things carry on as they are, the virus will spread like wildfire and it’s young women like me that are going to bear the brunt of it.”
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