Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Jamaica, the country has undergone multiple strict measures to combat the spread. Prime Minister Andrew Holness however, has met the near two-year mark of the pandemic with an ease in measures as a result of ‘pandemic fatigue’.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization, pandemic fatigue can be described as demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by a number of emotions, experiences and perceptions.
“Such demotivation is natural and expected at this stage of a crisis. 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,” the study explained.
During the initial stage of the pandemic, although not happy, many Jamaicans were able to adjust to the new norm. For the most part, the curfew was adhered to, there were no events being held, while churches and schools were closed.
The various measures were implemented to combat the spread of the virus. However, since the outbreak, the virus has not slowed, with a number of variants such as the Delta and recent Omicron being formed.
Countries across the world, including Jamaica, have been experiencing an outpouring of positive cases and many are suffering from overpopulated hospitals as a result of the highly transmissible but less severe, Omicron variant.
The study explained that, overtime, these circumstances can be met with exhaustion.
“However, when dire circumstances drag on, they have to adopt a different style of coping, and fatigue and demotivation may be the result.”
This is the current case of Jamaica.
Jamaica, which on Monday recorded its highest 24-hour numbers to date, 1,714, with an alarming positivity rate of 60.3 per cent, has not reverted to the usual lockdown and tighter curfew measures. Instead, the decision has been made to keep the more relaxed measures that are currently in place.
Speaking during a Sitting of the House of Representatives last year, Holness highlighted the discontent felt by the population, saying: “People are nearing the point of frustration due to the constant imposition of strict COVID measures.”
Not only have the measures remained relaxed, but schools have also reopened for face-to-face learning. In the past the Government made multiple attempts to reopen schools, however each attempt was met with spikes in case numbers, resulting in delays.
However, despite the most worrying numbers currently being experienced by the island, the decision to reopen schools was not postponed, especially due to the severe learning loss suffered by the student population.
Prior to the reopening of schools last Monday (January 3), Holness firmly stated that the institutions would not close again.
While Holness’ encouragement for personal responsibility may seem insufficient and less effective, will continuing with the strict measures prove to be a better option? For, despite the Government’s efforts and constant encouragement of citizens to get vaccinated, the public has shown that they will still do their own thing, due to pandemic fatigue.
Evidence of pandemic fatigue can also be seen in the number of events and gatherings being held. Parties that are kept rarely see social distancing or mask wearing being observed. The level of mask wearing and social distancing has also lessened in the various forms of public transport, with people often complaining of the discomfort brought on by the masks.
Adherence to curfew has also diminished, with parties going 1-2 hours beyond the established cut off time, and patrons trying to recreate the past by staying out late. Though examples have been made out of a few citizens who were taken into custody and charged for defying measures such as the curfew, it still continues to be broken.
While we may not know what the future holds, the onus should be on persons to protect themselves by practising social distancing, hand washing, sanitisation and mask wearing. With the availability of several vaccines, once one has done their research and feel comfortable, they should also get vaccinated.