It is hard to not be appalled by the sheer apathy many people are showing towards the health measures put in place to fight the pandemic – masks are barely seen covering both nose and mouth of the wearer properly, if at all; droves of people are casually visiting entertainment hubs and tourist spots with absolute disregard for social-distancing; weddings and parties are coming to pass in full throttle without remotely adhering to the health recommendations.
Even with the rollout of vaccines in many parts of the globe, there is no apparent end to the pandemic in sight – the number of cases and deaths continue to dart off the charts in many places with hospitals operating dreadfully close to their maximum capacities.
Yet, communities are now much less cautious than before. Months of persistent physical and emotional stress augmented by stringent blankets of restrictions have desensitised them. The caution has given in to exhaustion, as people are drained from being alert for too long. 'Pandemic fatigue' is becoming a burning concern.
While such a response is understandable, it exacerbates the crisis by accelerating viral transmission, putting not only those neglectful of the health measures but also others around them in danger. The undue stress is negatively impacting mental health, with a spike in depression, anxiety and burnout. Thus this issue needs prompt addressing.
'The new normal' narrative needs to be presented in a way that makes it feel less forced; it should be portrayed as a healthy, positive reform of our lifestyles that is not necessarily bounded by the pandemic's timeline. Following proper health measures ward off not only COVID-19 but also infectious diseases and thus improve the general well-being of populations.
It is important to inspire people to look at the bigger picture – the violation of rules stretch the crisis further. Wearing masks, practicing frequent hand washing and maintaining social distance help us exercise some degree of control amidst the uncertainty of this crisis. Such actions also show that we are mindful of the safety of those around us.
While rigorous enactment of laws penalising violations needs to be operational, it is equally important to boost the public morale, by sensitising them to the repercussions of their actions through stories that resonate with them, via print, broadcasting and internet media. This also entails fighting the misinformation trivialising the need for taking precautions and advocating 'going easy'.
Framing policies that are not overbearing but strike the right balance between curbing personal liberty and inspiring social responsibility should be prioritised. Running targeted campaigns tailored to the diverse circumstances of communities can effectively offer them the required mental stimulation and make them feel actively involved. Equally important is inspiring their confidence in the administration by ensuring transparency in health policies, interventions and the sharing of crucial information.
A catastrophe like this demands wholehearted collective efforts – attempting to proceed without securing all bases will only drop us back to square one.
Kazi Md Shaimul Reza is a medical student. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org