New research shows that people are tuning out of the virus
Unsurprisingly with the arrival of Omicron, Covid is in the headlines once again. But amid the media panic and the catastrophising, many Covid pundits are failing to appreciate a shift in the public mood. According to new research, there is mounting of Covid fatigue in the general public.
In a survey of over 2,500 adults, researchers at Sense about Science found that engagement and interest in Covid information has waned significantly across the board. During the first 6 months of the pandemic, 50% of people reported being “very aware” of the Covid rules and guidance, a figure that has now dropped to 29%. Similarly, the percentage of people checking Covid information “several times a day” fell across all age groups, from 27% in the first 6 months of the pandemic to 11%. Meanwhile the number who reported checking Covid info “less than once a week” increased across all age groups, and now sits at 22%.
This change was most pronounced in the 18-29 group, who reported a 30-percentage point decrease in the number who were “very aware” of Covid news, and a 32-percentage point increase in those who checked Covid information “less than once a week”.
This is hardly surprising. After one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in history, and a promise to “cry freedom” afterwards, we are now asking the public to spend another dark winter in the depths of more Covid restrictions. Much of the population — especially the young — quite rightly feel that they have played their part in the national Covid response. After years of interrupted schooling and university, the banning of in-person socialising and relationships for a virus which poses proportionally little risk to them, many young people have had enough. Their concerns now are more likely to be on earning enough cash to pay for worrying increases in the costs of living after the economic upheaval of the last 2 years.
The media and Government should take note of this waning public interest in Covid. While journalists and pundits may be happy to pontificate endlessly on the minutiae surrounding the latest variant or to promote opinion pieces shrilly calling for lockdowns, this obsession over Covid is not representative of a growing number of people.
And as for the Government, attempting to force an apathetic public to comply with more restrictions will only result in conflict. If enough people disengage with the latest Covid rules, they will quickly become unenforceable. This will also have a knock-on effect on guidance, meaning that there is a risk of losing communication with large swathes of the public altogether. It is better, therefore, to focus on proactive measures, such as adequate sick pay, NHS resourcing and reform, and supplying good quality information about vaccines, rather than attempting to coerce a fatigued population any further.
Amy Jones is an anonymous medical doctor with a background in philosophy and bioethics. You can find her on Twitter at @skepticalzebra.