Pandemic Paranoia and “Fear Fatigue”: How Much to Worry About the Pandemic?

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Photo by: Tonik/Unsplash

I’ve been following an account on Twitter for a few weeks now, called “Covid one year ago”. Every day, the account live tweets news about coronavirus— except the tweet is from a year ago to the day. It’s a great way to get perspective about how the pandemic unfolded and to see how far we’ve come in terms of understanding the virus and learning how to treat and prevent it. 

It’s also kind of alarming. As we, from our position of being exactly one year ahead of this news, can see how easily the issue was brushed aside by politicians, as much as we ourselves did at the time. London mayor Sadiq Khan, as tweeted by Covid one year ago, said on the 12 February 2020 that people should “Stay calm and don’t panic about coronavirus”, arguing that there was “No danger using buses, the Tube or trains”. Who knows whether he was as ignorant about the virus as he appeared at this time, or if didn’t want to panic people, but either way, as it wasn’t much of a care for people at this point just over a year ago.

I remember hearing about the virus spreading, but didn’t expect the outbreak to reach pandemic proportions, even after the first cases had been detected in the UK on 23 January. Even until March, Government messaging suggested that the virus was no worse than a common cold, and that only the elderly and extremely vulnerable were at risk of any serious illness. Even the Prime Minister was downplaying the seriousness, stating that he went to a Covid ward and “shook hands with everybody”.

Things started to change as we came to understand the reality of the situation. Infections shot up across the world, and every news website added a “coronavirus” tab to track the virus. Nationwide lockdowns were put in place in almost every country. And four days into the UK’s lockdown, one that according to experts, could have saved thousands of lives if implemented two weeks earlier, our own Prime Minister became infected

This 55-year-old, though not admittedly in peak shape, was to our knowledge fairly healthy until contracting this disease. There is no doubt he didn’t expect to be too badly harmed by it. He came very close to dying. It began to dawn on us that we were all likely to get coronavirus, and we were all, to varying degrees, at risk.

My fear of the virus has ebbed and flowed, mostly in reflection to how case numbers have gone up and down. I’ve developed a slightly neurotic habit of checking them every day. In the first wave, I, like most, followed the precautions, staying at home at almost all times, keeping a distance of two metres from others, and washing my hands thoroughly when receiving parcels. 

Some of the fear subsided when it was clear we had passed the first peak, and complacency crept in as well. I stopped washing my hands after parcels, and socially distanced at a much more liberal one metre. I saw friends, and didn’t think too much about the chances of passing anything on. 

And now we’re out of the second wave and leaving a third lockdown, and, despite being young and relatively healthy, I know I should be more afraid. Yes, Infections have gone down, if levelled off, and the UK’s vaccination programme is making great strides, but there are still so many dangers that are much more obvious now than were before.

First, the emerging coronavirus variants, some which cause more severe illness and are less effective against vaccines. A new French variant also seems to transmit itself undetected by “gold-standard” PCR tests. And who knows how long these vaccines will last for? And will other strains be even more resistant or deadly?

I’m trying my best to fight the “fear fatigue” of coronavirus: in other words, a complacency that doesn’t reflect how big a threat the virus really is at this time. Cases can, and probably will, start to go up again. We’re not out of the woods yet, and we’re going to endure a pandemic for a while longer whether we like it or not. 

March 2020-21 has felt incredibly long, and by and large we have all put up with so much, and forgone so much. That includes the most basic parts of human interaction: hugs and handshakes, large gatherings, at points even being outside for more than an hour. 

Granted, it can be very difficult to live with the fear of contracting a deadly disease, or to pass it on to your loved ones who are at risk of dying from it. The constant paranoia of someone passing a little too close by you is damaging. On the plus side, we can see the end of this horrible period. There is hope for some semblance of normality, but only if we behave right. So it’s vital, I think, to remain calm, concerned, and vigilant to get through this final stretch.

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