What is COVID fatigue and why you should be wary of it

Updated: 23 October, 2020 07:29 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Experts warn that people getting tired of fear of the virus are susceptible to letting their guard down, leading to poor judgment, failing health

People wearing face masks walk outside Churchgate station. 
File pic/ Bipin Kokate
People wearing face masks walk outside Churchgate station. File pic/ Bipin Kokate

As people have started stepping out of their homes, mostly for work, after six months of being locked inside, health experts caution them against 'COVID fatigue'. Describing it as a sneaky health wrecker, doctors say people might not even realise when the COVID fatigue sets in, and in the process let their guard down against the threat of novel Coronavirus.

Speaking to mid-day, the health experts explain in length about 'COVID fatigue' and how it might adversely affect our fight against the pandemic.

Dr Wiqar Shaikh, senior asthma and allergy specialist, said, "COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on the public psyche. People are now feeling demotivated about following established and recommended preventive guidelines against novel Coronavirus." He said as the lockdown began, people thought it was going to be brief, but "a complete end to the lockdown is not in sight". "Let us be very clear, that the pandemic is not going away anytime soon. Therefore, it is important to realise that we simply cannot let our guards down," he added.

Both mental, physical

Dr Shaikh added, "Fatigue, a feeling of being extremely tired, could be either physical or mental, or both. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 60 per cent of the world population are now affected by pandemic fatigue. The psychology behind pandemic fatigue is that the fear of the virus, which was the initial motivating factor, wears off as people adapt to the possible threat."

Women commuters head towards the subway at CSMT station on Wednesday. FILE PIC/SURESH KARKERAWomen commuters head towards the subway at CSMT station on Wednesday. File pic/ Suresh Karkera

"In India, particularly, carelessness has become more evident with people stepping out of their homes without wearing masks, and not following social distancing measures. In the past few weeks, I have met several patients who said they don't care about contracting the virus, and this is a classic example of pandemic fatigue," Dr Wiqar said.

Can't be left unchecked

Dr Subhash Hira, professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, and former health specialist of the World Bank and WHO, and currently the health adviser to several UN, Indian and African health agencies, said, "I am of the opinion that the fight against the pandemic is the most disorganised one because all stakeholders were caught unawares despite having prior inkling of what was to come. Multiplicity of untested, diverse interventions have reduced trust in the general public and healthcare system's credibility to such an extent that not many seem to be sure of what to do next. This burnout and fatigue exhibit themselves in several ways such as emotional exhaustion, reduced sense of personal accomplishment or meaning in life, mental exhaustion, decreased interactions with others [isolation], depersonalisation [symptoms disconnected from real causes] and physical exhaustion."

Dr Hira added, "Left unchecked, pandemic fatigue can lead to two consequences: poor performance and poor health. People show poor judgement, make errors, and less than desirable interactions with family and friends. Personally, they may suffer physical ailments such as headaches and gastrointestinal problems and exhibit psychosocial traits such as apathy, detachment, depression and irritability. They may also be impacted by a lack of willingness to observe the COVID prevention guidelines, disturbed sleep, loss of self-worth, loss of hope, and changes in their worldview and spirituality."

Dr Hira, "I am afraid that the world is probably losing patience and will turn towards spirituality, yoga and the likes to deal with pandemic fatigue."

Healthcare workers affected too

Dr Ketan Vagholkar, professor of surgery at D Y Patil Medical College, said 'COVID fatigue' has already set in and is seen "both in healthcare workers and the public."

"There is complacency in following basic preventive guidelines, such as wearing a mask, maintaining safe physical distance and frequent hand wash. During festivals, it has been observed that these three basic preventive measures have not been followed diligently. This can lead to another spike in cases."

"We are probably in the last phase of our fight against COVID-19. Therefore, it is advisable to continue with the same preventive measures till we finally succeed in getting control over the pandemic," Dr Vagholkar said.

How to tackle COVID fatigue

Dr Shaikh says there are no easy solutions to the COVID fatigue, but recommends some measures

  • Even if it is inconvenient, continue to wear a mask, use a hand sanitiser and maintain safe physical distance
  • Practise all safety guidelines issued by the health department, particularly in front of children, so that they can learn and adapt to the safety measures
  • Keep multiple masks when on the move, like while travelling to and from work.
  • Discuss positive reports about COVID-19 with family, particularly children, so that their morale remains high
  • Children should be kept busy with online schooling and other extra-curricular activities at home

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First Published: 23 October, 2020 07:18 IST

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