On Wednesday, government tightened the restrictions in the country’s response to COVID-19, after active cases doubled in the space of a week. Despite the danger stalking the streets, the rising cases suggest more people are not following the prevention protocols. Staff Writers, MBONGENI MGUNI & PHATSIMO KAPENG write
Some psychologists call it “disaster fatigue” or specifically in this case, “Covid fatigue,” a situation where the sheer volume of information about the ongoing pandemic, the constant stress, fear and helplessness began building in once vigilant citizens, a rising cynicism and even bitterness.
The alertness and commitment that initially greets a disaster like the coronavirus, gives way gradually to incredulity and even a laissez-faire “whatever will be, will be”.
Though not thoroughly studied, the academic evidence online indicates the phenomenon has been observed frequently in the aftermath of major calamities, particularly where large groups of people have been initially required to pull together.
“Eventually, that heroic spirit wears thin as the difficulties and stress build up,” says University of California psychologist, Kaye Hermanson, quoted in a university article earlier this month.
“That’s when we hit the disillusionment phase.
“We lose our optimism and start to have negative or angry reactions.
“We ask, ‘what are they doing to fix this? How long will this last?’”
Hermanson continues: “That’s about where we stand now as a society.
‘Many people are exhausted by it all.
“Some are saying they don’t care if they get COVID-19.
“They’d rather risk getting sick than stay home or be careful.
“Others have simply stopped listening to health leaders and science.”
Fatigue may be being observed in California but that is far removed from Gaborone. The US has 4.5 million cases and more than 150,000 deaths. COVID-19 is a hot political issue in an election year over there and their 24-hour news cycle is in overdrive.
Botswana, meanwhile, has recorded 140 local cases since the outbreak on March 30, with 63 recoveries and two deaths. By yesterday, active cases amongst locals were pegged at 75.
The US is being overwhelmed and the ‘heroic spirit’ is potentially waning, sapped as well by non-stop political bickering, all of which create ripe conditions for ‘fatigue’.
But again, the US has not taken the strict measures and restrictions Botswana has. If anyone should be tired of the coronavirus telling them what they can and cannot do or disrupting their daily lives, it would be Batswana over Americans.
So, is a form of fatigue behind the recent doubling of COVID-19 cases? From the vigilance and commitment to new and tight pandemic restrictions after the lockdown in May, observers say they have noted a dropping of the guard.
Members of the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force, ministers and others have spoken out against the same, saying as the restrictions have eased, vigilance has also decreased.
“I thought we had a deal,” tweeted the trade minister, Peggy Serame, cryptically on Friday before adding: “Yes we have a deal to protect ourselves, friends and family. We have a deal to comply with all COVID-19 protocols at all times.”
In the streets of Gaborone, a snap survey by Mmegi on Thursday found general consensus that vigilance is declining.
“Since we came back from the last lockdown, I have observed that more and more people I meet are slowly turning away from observing the COVID-19 protocols like washing hands, using sanitisers and observing social distancing,” says Kago Monageng.
“With conversations pointing to a possible lockdown in response to the new cases reported yesterday I believe we are yet to see how effective the lockdown is.”
Thata Gabothuse has also noted that more people are disregarding the protocols put in place to prevent the pandemic’s spread.
“In my opinion I believe government has done a lot in the fight against COVID-19 and Batswana have to play their part as well but if you look at what is happening right now, a lot of people are disregarding the protocols meant to protect them,” she says.
Teacher Tich Moyo says Batswana, like Thomas in the New Testament, only believe what they see and with few cases around them, have started doubting the virus’ presence in their proximity.
“I think this kind of attitude is what will eventually cost us in the fight against the pandemic as we see in the recent spike in cases of COVID-19.”
Veteran journalist, Pamela Dube says while there are echoes of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1990s in today’s public response to COVID-19, there are key differences.
“In the HIV era, people panicked, but after some time, there was information overload and fatigue,” she says.
“I don’t think that’s what’s happening with the coronavirus.
“To me, we are at a point where it’s about pretending the pandemic is not amongst us, sort of like when Donald Trump said it was an ordinary flu.
“You don’t want to panic but you know it can hit you at any time.”
Dube also says unlike the HIV/AIDS era, the COVID-19 crisis has had few or no public disclosures of status, which would go a long way in helping Batswana realise how close the virus is.
“The task force will simply say ‘a 37-year-old and his girlfriend’ have tested positive. “In other countries, people and leaders are coming forward to say they are infected, which helps put a face to the disease and makes see and believe.
“We are still hiding and people will get to a point where they think it does not exist. “You can overload people with information but it won’t get through because they cannot put a face to the disease.” Nearly four months after the first case was reported, “invisible enemy” still stalks the streets, but it appears more and more are tired of being on the lookout.