It's been over eight months since we first began hearing about Covid-19 and seven months since the government-enforced lockdown. Over the course of that time, it's no surprise that many of us have started to feel deflated and tired of the pandemic and the ever-changing restrictions that, while wholly necessary, make life less enjoyable.
If you're feeling this way, understand that you're not alone. The World Health Organisation reports that there are so many people globally experiencing this apathy that the company has come up for a term for it, 'pandemic fatigue'. It is estimated to have reached over 60% of us in some cases.
What is 'pandemic fatigue'?
WHO defines it as "demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by a number of emotions, experiences and perceptions". The organisation says it is a "natural response" to a prolonged global health crisis, especially at this stage. It manifests itself in an unwillingness to follow guidelines and recommendations, whether social distancing with friends or mask-wearing; a decreased effort to remain informed about the pandemic; and, finally, the possession of lower risk perceptions related to Covid-19.
Why has it emerged?
When the virus first hit, we tapped into our 'surge capacity', "a collection of mental and physical adaptive systems that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations", but as the pandemic continues we find other ways of coping and fatigue and demotivation can often be the result. There are many reasons why we might be feeling apathetic towards the virus at this stage. The first is that the perceived threat of the virus might have decreased in our minds as we become used to its existence, despite medical data pointing to the opposite (eg that the risk is, in some countries, increasing). Nine months into the situation, we are more likely to feel the financial, social and personal losses that come as a result of preventative measures such as lockdowns and restrictions. "For some people, the balance may shift, and the perceived costs of the response may start to outweigh the perceived risks related to the virus," says a WHO report.
Also as restrictions continue or change in a way we feel we have little control over, we might feel an increased desire for freedom and self-determination.
Why is it a problem?
WHO has published a lengthy report aimed at reducing this demotivated sensibility because, weary though we all are of the virus, we must continue to fight it. "[Pandemic fatigue'] poses a serious threat to efforts to control the spread of the virus," says WHO. "Until a vaccine or effective treatments are available, public support and protective behaviours remain critical for containing the virus. The gains that each nation collectively achieved through lockdowns and other measures – sometimes at high social and economic costs – must be safeguarded."
So, how do we combat it?
Dr Hans Henri Kluge, WHO's regional director for Europe, believes there are ways to reinvigorate efforts to tackle and prevent further spreading of the virus. Talking to the BBC, he says that feeling a sense of community is key. He listed the following methods:
- "Understand people by measuring public opinion regularly and acknowledge their hardship
- "Involve communities in discussions and decisions as part of the solution
- "Allow people to live their lives, but reduce their risk by looking at innovative ways to meet continuing societal needs - for example, delivering meals to vulnerable people or organising virtual catch-ups"
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