COVID-19: Is ‘pandemic fatigue’ making people disregard precautionary measures?

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Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: It has been eight months since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the UAE. After a remarkable dip in the number of cases over the summer, the figures have again shot up over the last several weeks. Authorities have been warning residents to adhere to the precautionary measures that have been put in place to limit the spread of the virus. Yet, many people continue to disregard rulings on social distancing and wearing of face masks.

Speaking to Gulf News, residents also said they had simply become too used to the idea of COVID-19 and were no longer willing to put their lives on hold indefinitely — a phenomenon referred to as ‘pandemic fatigue’.

However, experts have cautioned residents, urging them not to lower their guards and remain vigilant at all times.

Education is the key

Dr Mohammad Yousaf

“Most people are tired — tired of getting scared, tired of being cautious, tired of social distancing — and this has brought about a huge increase in the number of cases. Others simply get [tired] of all the new precautions. Yet, the fact is that they actually work and it is because people follow it that many people are safe today,” said Dr Mohammad Yousaf, specialist psychiatrist at Aster Clinic, Mutheena. “You have to do the right thing to keep [the community] safe. It’s just like wearing a seatbelt or helmet. These are habits we have adapted to for our own safety and the slight inconvenience should be ignored,” he added.

Recent violations

In recent weeks, authorities have penalised a number of people for violating COVID-19 precautionary measures — such as not wearing masks, failing to maintain social distancing, or having too many people in small spaces. Much of the disregard for these protective guidelines stems from a pandemic fatigue.

Dr Laila Mohamedian

“The whole situation is unpredictable even after eight months, and [a certain level of] burnout is to be expected. People keep telling themselves that they’ve been wearing PPE [personal protective equipment], yet the outbreak continues. So they feel frustrated. Then there is the added stress that arises from job insecurity,” said Dr Laila Mohamedian, specialist psychiatrist at Medcare Hospital, Sharjah.

Changes in guidelines

Other residents pointed to the difficulties of the new normal. Not only are lives significantly different because of the new precautionary measures, but there are constant changes to safety guidelines, which can get overwhelming. “I live in Abu Dhabi with my husband and children, and haven’t been able to visit my family in Sharjah for quite a while due to the entry restrictions. These too change as the situation changes, and it has become a lonely existence for us,” said one Arab mother-of-two.

Be considerate of others

But Dr Mohamedian urges people to be mindful of and considerate towards others. “People should keep themselves motivated by thinking intellectually rather than emotionally. Even if we do not know much else, we [should not let the pandemic fatigue] dissuade us from safety measures,” she said. Authorities have also stressed that wearing masks and maintaining social distance not only protect one’s own self, but also the most vulnerable members of the community. This pandemic is not like anything we have experienced before and it is not over yet. If there is anything that can help stop the spread of coronavirus, it is us — each one of us needs to do his or her bit by following the safety measures,” Dr Yousaf reminded.

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Dubai residents head to work. For another group of people, pandemic fatigue makes them take the risk factor less seriously.
Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Taking risks less seriously

For another group of people, pandemic fatigue makes them take the risk factor less seriously. Dr Yousaf said these people usually tell themselves ‘it is okay to contract COVID-19, and that the risks are probably minimal because the death rate is low’. This is a pandemic, so it is important that people educate themselves. Otherwise, it may not feel real to many people, [especially] if they have not [encountered] anyone who is sick [with the virus],” the psychiatrist explained. In such a case, Johns Hopkins University recommends that people find out about others around them and listen to stories of people who have been impacted to understand why precautions are necessary.

Find the beauty

In the meantime, people should also look for whatever beauty they can find in their lives. For many people who are fortunate, the pandemic has allowed them to work from home, spend time with their families and develop new skills. “Everyone was on the run. With the COVID-19 outbreak, people have had a chance to look closely at their own lives and cherish the little things,” Dr Yousaf advised. And to beat fatigue with precautionary measures, experts recommend commitment. “Commit to putting on your mask until it becomes just another habit like brushing your teeth,” Dr Yousaf said.

And to make it even easier, one might even buy a new type of mask, or find one that feels comfortable and convenient. “It is important that people understand there have been other epidemics and pandemics before and they have been controlled. So instead of getting demotivated or fatigued, each one of us will have to continue doing our bit to stop the spread,” Dr Yousaf urged.

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