World leaders urged to show empathy to help people through lockdowns

By Tess de la Mare, PA
·3-min read

Clear empathy with the plight of those hardest hit by Covid-19 restrictions is the only way world leaders will persuade their citizens to comply, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe has said.

Dr Hans Kluge warned “pandemic fatigue” risks undermining strategies put in place to try to curb the second wave of the virus.

Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, Dr Kluge praised French President Emmanuel Macron for telling France’s youth “it is hard to be 20 in the year 2020”.

Dr Kluge said, according to WHO data, 60% of people in the EU member states say they are fed up with lockdown measures.

“There are different strategies but one size does not fit all and that comes back to empathy – it’s very important to show empathy,” he said.

The WHO is now advising governments to identify “influencers” within different communities to help them spread their Covid-19 messaging, rather than focusing on enforcement.

“Instead of pointing the finger, gather the data – this is ongoing in many, many countries – and based on the data, engage the communities,” Dr Kluge said.

“Co-create solutions with the voice of the community and particularly influencers.”

He called for extra resources for mental health services and those at risk of becoming “collateral damage” of the virus, including children and those with pre-existing physical conditions.

“We need to take care of our exhausted health and other frontline workers – survey, compensate them (and) act decisively,” he said.

Coronavirus – Wed Jul 1, 2020
Boris Johnson’s decision to back Dominic Cummings resulted in public trust in the UK Government declining (Ian Hinchliffe/PA)

The UK Government has been hit by a series of public relations issues since the start of the pandemic, many relating to spending and its apparent willingness to waive the rules for senior figures.

Faith in its handling of the crisis dropped following Boris Johnson’s decision to back his chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip to Durham with his family while he had coronavirus symptoms.

Research from University College London revealed public trust fell 0.4 points on a scale of one to seven in the days after the news broke in May.

Last month, the Government was also criticised for its refusal to raise wages for NHS staff due to a pre-existing three-year pay rise agreement.

But it emerged on Wednesday that private-sector consultants earned more than £7,000 per day to advise on the struggling test and trace system this summer.

Sky News reported it had seen documents revealing the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) was paid £10 million for about 40 consultants to provide four months’ work between late April and the end of August.

Behavioural scientist Stephen Reicher, of the University of St Andrews, tweeted: “Sorry, there’s no money to properly compensate pubs and pub workers that have to close.

“Sorry there’s no money to hire extra teachers and spaces so classes can be properly distanced. Sorry there’s no money. … because this is how it has been spent.”

Prof Reicher is part of SPI-B, a panel of experts advising the Government on how to help the public adhere to lockdown measures and other coronavirus transmission prevention strategies.

He told the PA news agency: “There is much research in psychology showing that empathy is a function of seeing others as part of an ingroup.

“The whole problem is that the Government treats the public as an outgroup – as the problem rather than the solution (and) as a target of blame.”

He added: “In return the public sees the Government as an outgroup and hence the Government has little influence and is accorded little trust.

“They have got things precisely the wrong way round.”