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Pandemic fatigue

IN recent weeks, many countries have been reporting an increase in “pandemic fatigue,” where people are feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviors to protect themselves and others from coronavirus infection. In many cases, they take their fight to the streets to protest restrictive measures adopted by their government to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In Romania, about 1,000 people converged last week on Victory Square and University Square, expressing frustration with an earlier curfew and shop closures that took effect at the end of March. Many demonstrators waved tri-color Romanian flags and chanted “Freedom!” and “Down with the government!”

On April 12, demonstrators of the “Io apro” (I open) movement scuffled with police during a non-authorized protest near the Parliament in Rome. Italian restaurant owners from all over Italy and others are angry at having their businesses shut for weeks due to virus lockdown.

In Canada, hundreds of people gathered in Old Montreal in defiance of a new 8 p.m. curfew amid the coronavirus pandemic. Montreal police, however, caught and detained a number of protesters.

In the country, the Philippine National Police nabbed at least 6,498 quarantine violators in the National Capital Region, two days after the implementation of the uniformed curfew hours, according to data released by PNP on March 17. The PNP reported 19,809 quarantine violators from March 1 to 14.

Pandemic fatigue evolves gradually over time, especially in a country like the Philippines, which implemented one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns last year. Finding effective ways to tackle this malady is a growing challenge as the crisis continues.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said pandemic fatigue refers to the reaction of the people to the prolonged nature of the pandemic and the associated inconvenience and hardship. It said this poses a serious threat to efforts to control the spread of the virus. Thus, until a vaccine or effective treatments are available, public support and protective behaviors remain critical to fight the pandemic. That’s why authorities need to safeguard the gains that were collectively achieved through lockdowns and other measures—sometimes at high social and economic costs.

WHO acknowledged that very limited experience exists on how to best maintain or reinvigorate public support during a global health crisis that expands over months, and that affects every member of every society in every country. Such demotivation is natural and expected at this stage of a crisis.

WHO said: “At the beginning of a crisis, most people are able to tap into their surge capacity—a collection of mental and physical adaptive systems that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations. However, when dire circumstances drag on, they have to adopt a different style of coping, and fatigue and demotivation may be the result. The pandemic fatigue reported from countries is expressed through an increasing number of people not sufficiently following recommendations and restrictions, decreasing their effort to keep themselves informed about the pandemic and having lower risk perceptions related to Covid-19.”

What can authorities do to fight pandemic fatigue and reinvigorate public vigilance against the virus?

WHO offers a number of practical recommendations:

Avoid judgment and blame related to risky behaviors, as this can contribute to shame and alienation more than engagement and motivation.

Avoid an economy-versus-health dichotomy. Personal economic hardship can result in demotivation, and so pandemic response measures may include efforts to keep the economy and businesses going while taking into account the epidemiological risk.

Understand people. Collect and use evidence for targeted, tailored and effective policies, interventions and communication.

Allow people to live their lives, but reduce risk. Wide-ranging restrictions may not be feasible for everyone in the long run.

Engage people as part of the solution. Find ways to meaningfully involve individuals and communities at every level.

Acknowledge and address the hardship people experience and the profound impact the pandemic has had on their lives.

Be transparent by sharing the reasons behind restrictions and any changes made to them, and by acknowledging the limits of science and government.

Be as consistent as possible in messages and actions, and avoid conflicting measures.

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