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Coronavirus: Young People Are Not Immune

Older people are at greater risk but more cases of young, healthy people getting critically ill and even dying are being recorded around the world. Are these cases changing the picture?

Two young ride a bike wearing protective face masks.
Two young ride a bike wearing protective face masks.
Michaela Kozminova

PARIS — It started as a mild cough. She had no underlying health issues.

But on March 24, at the age of 16, rather than becoming one of the many coronavirus patients to see their symptoms come and go, Julie became the youngest person in France to die from the disease. Health officials said she contracted a severe form of the virus, which is extremely rare among young people — rare but not impossible.

"People need to stop thinking that the virus only affects the elderly. No one is invincible in the face of this virus," her sister told Le Parisien.

For most, the message had seemed clear: the older you are, the more at risk you are from coronavirus. But even top medical researchers from around the world are still trying to understand the nature of COVID-19, and particularly who is most vulnerable.

In recent days, new data has sparked concern of an increasing number of young people infected around the world, as several deaths of teenagers made headlines in Europe and the U.S.. In their latest media briefing, WHO officials also warned about a surge in cases of young people dying from the virus. "We are seeing more and more younger individuals who are experiencing severe disease," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said, "Some of those individuals have had underlying conditions, but some have not."

So what do we know about the "age factor" for COVID-19?

*In Moscow, 56% of new coronavirus cases are younger than 40 years old, reported The Moscow Times. According to the city's coronavirus crisis center, 45% of Moscow's patients in serious condition are younger than 60 years old and nearly 40% of patients younger than 40 years old are on respirators.

No one is invincible in the face of this virus.

*In Australia, people in their 20s have more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other age group. The highest share, 11,3% of cases are among people aged 25 to 29, followed by those aged 60 to 65 who make up 9,5% of positive cases, reports The Guardian. Australian experts believe the data might be skewed because people in their 20s are more likely to travel or meet returned travelers. Both testing and infection is therefore more concentrated among this group.

*In Chicago, a nine-month-old became the first infant in the U.S. to die of the disease, while a twelve-year-old girl fell victim to coronavirus in Belgium.

Statistically, it is still proven, that those over 60 are still at highest risk of developing a severe case or dying from the disease. But as Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told BBC, the virus "isn't a mathematical formula", so there are reasons for people in every age group to be cautious.

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch is delivering a concise, once-a-day global update on the coronavirus pandemic from the best international news sources, regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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