The Covid-19 focus has shifted to young people. More of them are becoming infected and health authorities across Europe are concerned that they are a significant cause of the worrying increase in case numbers happening in several European countries. More young people are also becoming infected in Ireland, with the median age of new cases now at 33. They are also in our minds because we want them to go back to school and college.
The increase in case numbers is leading to annoyance in Europe. Many thought Europe had almost beaten Covid-19 and could look on what is happening in the US with dismay. Not so. The Belgian government has warned that another 'complete lockdown' is on the cards. Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes has said: "If we can't reduce the coronavirus, it will be a collective failure."
France's health minister is begging for greater vigilance. Health advisers there have said: "There's everything at risk in the next three weeks because we're entering the dangerous period." In Germany, health advisers are "deeply concerned". Meanwhile, in Spain, experts have stated: "We're in the 10 most important days of summer. The situation is critical and if we don't manage it, we will have to go backwards."
It's clear why all of this is happening. In mainland Europe, people are going on holidays (and therefore travelling through airports, and mixing with lots of others), and not obeying the instructions. And lots of people have become lax because it's the summer time and they want to enjoy themselves, especially our young people.
In Spain, many outbreaks were traced to bars and clubs. The Catalan government has shut all nightclubs but this has led to young people holding drinking parties in the streets. The German health minister is so worried about young Germans getting infected on holiday in Mallorca and Ibiza that he has introduced mandatory testing of returning travellers.
In France, infections in young people are also the greatest cause of concern. The French health minister has appealed, particularly to them, to follow all the guidelines. He said that older people are still being careful while young people are paying less attention.
The situation in several European countries is therefore approaching a tipping point, the far side of which is lockdown. When we look further afield we see the ongoing problems in the USA, where over 150,000 have now died, with no sign of the rate of increase in cases abating any time soon. Again, young people are a major feature.
The director general of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently said that we are only in the early stages of the most severe pandemic in its history, with the total number of cases doubling in the past six weeks - again, many of these being in younger people.
He yet again emphasised the four key measures that we all must follow, and especially our young people: social distancing, hand washing, avoiding crowds in enclosed spaces, and mask wearing. Yet still the virus continues on its relentless march, leaving death, long-term illness and economic destruction in its wake. And, ultimately, it is our young people that will pay a price for all this.
They will especially bear the brunt if we don't reopen our schools and keep them open. This is the single most important event in the coming months. It's all about the numbers. Given our current trend, it's looking good. If that changes, though, and case numbers start rising, it is in jeopardy - hence the need for vigilance.
To give you an idea of what numbers heading in the wrong direction look like, once Hong Kong had seen 100 cases per day five days in a row, they began reintroducing restrictions. For us, that number would be 65.
Where are our risks? Apart from inward travel, our other major risk is the pubs. If we reopen them all, there is a real risk of case numbers rising, and the schools might not then reopen. The safest thing would be to allow rural pubs to reopen, given their importance for local communities and the especially low levels of virus outside the major urban centres.
Check your Covid Tracker App and you'll see almost 50pc of cases are in Dublin, with the other counties accounting for 1-3pc of cases. Rural publicans also perhaps stand a better chance of monitoring behaviour. If you insist on pubs reopening in big cities, you might have to go back into lockdown and home school your kids again. How would you like that?
Everything is being done to allow schools to open safely. We can look to other countries to see what works and what doesn't. Overall, the signs are good. On May 18, there was a conference call with education ministers from across the EU. Children had been back in school for several weeks in 22 European countries (Ireland sadly not among them) and there was no significant sign in any of them that schools were a cause of an increase in Covid-19 cases. Remember, children are by and large spared from illness with Covid-19.
It's still not fully clear whether children are as infectious as adults, but caution should prevail. Although children may not become ill, there is still a risk of them infecting vulnerable people with disastrous consequences.
Equally, in countries outside Europe, the picture has been promising. In Japan, students attend on alternate days, observe social distancing and wear masks, and again, there is no evidence of outbreaks in schools. Uruguay was one of the first countries to send its children back to school, with no evidence of school-related outbreaks. Again, students attended on alternate days, with rules on social distancing and mask wearing being followed widely.
Israel is one country which hasn't fared so well. Schools reopened there in May with staggered schedules, mask mandates and social distancing rules. However, cases have surged in Israel, and school children and teachers are among the new cases. Several hundred schools have closed as a result. The blame lies with lax enforcement of the rules.
One issue that has been widely debated is the wearing of masks. This is a challenge with younger children, with the Ontario Ministry of Education recommending against them because it is "not practical for a child to wear a mask properly for the duration of the school day".
Differences are evident across countries. I would advocate for mask-wearing in secondary schools - not in the classroom where social distancing and hand hygiene are observed, and where pupils are in the one group - but outside the classroom in communal areas. This is the case in Germany, and it would have the added benefit of getting pupils used to wearing masks. And, of course, teachers have to be especially careful, to protect themselves and their pupils.
The Belgian authorities have threatened everybody that if they are bold, the schools won't reopen. The warning is designed to put manners on people. In Ireland, to make sure case numbers don't rise like they are doing in other European countries, we must especially tell our young people to avoid crowds, wear masks, and wash their hands. And we must ensure the schools are following all the guidelines.
And then, you know what? Our young people won't be the cause of further outbreaks. It might be a straight run to Halloween and beyond to Christmas - and who knows, Santa might leave a vaccine in your stocking.
Luke O'Neill is professor of biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin.