Fatigue as big events take precedence over small, precious moments - Scotsman leader comment

Through the darkest days of the pandemic, "lockdown fatigue" was often cited as a reason to dial down lockdown measures as quickly as possible, lest people simply start disobeying the rules.

Now, research published in Scientific Reports backs up the hunch: people were making their own decisions about the risk of infection they perceived, versus their desire to see friends and family in person once more. Lockdown fatigue was real. And when fatigue trumped fear, "household mixing" grew again, even before the rules were relaxed.

We should be careful what conclusions we draw, exactly. "Household mixing" need not be an hours-long indoor party (although clearly, sometimes, it was). As the data was derived from mobile phone records, researchers could not tell if visits were to the garden, for a distant wave and a chat, or inside the home.

But it is clear that, while many of us continued to carefully follow the rules, many were starting to push against them. Some shifted the balance of their views on the risks of infection, versus the impact of restrictions on their lives. They chose to accept greater risk to lessen the impact of lockdown.

This matters because it shows us that, no matter the views of experts and the decisions of our elected representatives, lockdowns and restrictions on our movements only worked because so many of us were persuaded of their importance.


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Rules that appear unnecessary or inconsistent are less likely to be obeyed. They may contribute to a general, and risky, weariness over precautions in general.

The findings also explain the backlash against decisions to keep families away from nativity plays and school concerts for a second year in a row.

It is easy to understand the concerns of teachers about the risks of infection, and especially at one proffered solution - checking vaccine passports, and blocking entry to those without them. But it is harder to understand why other precautions - good ventilation, mask-wearing, well-spaced seating - couldn't make these joyous, memorable events possible.

Parents of young children may be justified in feeling their own fatigue this advent, at a world that finds a way to run big public events - from professional concerts to football and rugby matches - while ruling out those precious small moments so many have missed for so long.


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