Sat | Nov 28, 2020

...Virus fatigue taking a toll across the region

Published:Sunday | October 25, 2020 | 12:18 AM
As the COVID-19 crisis lingers, people’s patience is being tested, and so is their ability to cope.
As the COVID-19 crisis lingers, people’s patience is being tested, and so is their ability to cope.

For 62-year-old shopkeeper June Findlay, the COVID-19 crisis can’t end soon enough, not because of the toll it has taken on her business, but due to the toll it’s taking on her.

“I’m fed up of it,” Findlay, of Montego Bay, St James, told The Sunday Gleaner. “I’m afraid of it; I don’t want to hear nothing about it.”

A close family member explained that the sexagenarian no longer participates in conversations about the virus at home or anywhere else, and she no longer looks at the map that shows the affected areas. And on this one occasion that she was coaxed into discussing the subject, Findlay said very little.

“[It’s going on] too long, man. I’m afraid,” she stated wearily.

She’s afraid to be in people’s company, to attend funerals or even to wear masks.

“I miss my parties,” she said hesitantly. “I can’t take the mask anymore. I feel like it stifling me.”

When the coronavirus began impacting the Caribbean in March, there was a degree of confidence – or hope – among many that the worst would be behind the region by now and life would have been back to some form of normality. Events and festivals that were scheduled for the first half of the year were postponed to later this year, including the Jamaica carnival which was rescheduled for this month.

The precautionary measures imposed by the governments – the closing of international borders, lockdowns, curfews, states of emergency, mandating the wearing of face coverings, etc – were expected to help bring the situation under control.

Patience Being Tested

However, as the crisis lingers, people’s patience is being tested, and so is their ability to cope.

“Yes, there certainly is [COVID-19 fatigue]. This ‘fatigue’ is not solely a physical symptom but more of an emotional and mental state caused by frustration and decreased motivation resulting from dealing with the many months of anxiety and restrictions imposed by the pandemic,” Dr Katija Khan, a lecturer in clinical psychology at The University of the West Indies Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex in Trinidad, told The Sunday Gleaner.

“As the pandemic continues, it is likely that more and more persons will experience this pandemic fatigue.”

There’s no readily available research on the extent of the problem in the Caribbean – efforts by The Sunday Gleaner to get comments from the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the Pan American Health Organization’s Eastern Caribbean office proved unsuccessful. However, across the region, an increasing number of people are saying they’ve had enough.

“I am tired of it,” said 47-year-old Trinidadian journalist, Laura Dowrich-Phillips, who describes herself as a ‘glass half-full’ person.

“There have been moments that I literally felt like I was going insane. If I allow myself to think about this on a long-term basis, I think I’ll get depressed because it just seems that there is no end in sight.”

The mother of three boys, aged six, 11 and 16, has been home since March, practising her profession and supervising the boys who are doing classes online because schools have not reopened. The stress and lack of physical activity have resulted in weight gain, Dowrich-Phillips shared.

“There have been a few days I wanted to pull my hair out because I’m like, ‘I can’t manage work and this at the same time’. I have to plan meals for the children and if I don’t, I have to stop what I’m doing and then go make lunch, so it’s been a lot. It’s been a lot,” she stressed, adding, “I was OK for the first few months because I like being home, but now, I find myself craving socialising. I need to be somewhere drinking with my friends. I miss that. I miss seeing people; I miss being in a crowded space and just liming and not being around the kids.”

In the eight-square-mile Dutch Caribbean island of St Eustatius (commonly known as Statia), located just off St Maarten, the restrictions imposed by the administrators have led to public weariness. There have been 14 cases on the island of approximately 3,500 people – the last of which recovered last week – and dozens have had to quarantine.

Strict curfews, the closing of places of entertainment, restrictions on indoor dining and other activities have left many feeling claustrophobic.

“The COVID situation, it has lingered a little too long and the norm is not there anymore,” Charles Lindo, a 53-year-old tourism executive, said. “You go into a shutdown and then you start getting curfews, so the insecurity, the uncertainty is real. It becomes a stressful moment; it become a stressful thing for you … the stressful part is not knowing.”

Not only must Lindo, a single father, assist his 10-year-old son with his online learning due to the closure of schools on at least two occasions, he must also be concerned about his elderly mother who lives alone. No wonder he wishes the virus would go away now.

“I wish it wasn’t there … period!” he emphasised.

The ongoing crisis has resulted in “a collective sense of loss and grief for the lives we had before” the onset of the virus, said Dr Khan, leading to exhaustion, frustration, complacency and demotivation. As a result, people fail to abide by public-health prevention measures such as the wearing of masks, social distancing, or simple handwashing or sanitising. Many also engage in prohibited activities such as group sports and parties.

SACRIFICES FOR THE GREATER GOOD

In Trinidad, people continue to hold COVID parties despite warnings from the authorities, and earlier this month, 14 people were arrested for breach of COVID-19 regulations, according to the Trinidad and Tobago police service.

In Jamaica, Usain Bolt’s birthday party on August 21 attracted global media attention after the man known as the greatest sprinter who ever lived tested positive for the coronavirus.

Internationally renowned reggae artiste, Buju Banton, has also come in for much criticism for discouraging the use of masks, saying in one of a number of videos shared on social media: “Wi waa done with this mask wearing b#$*@%t in Jamaica. Who fi dead a go dead and who nah dead haffi just live.”

These acts of heedlessness are clear signs that people are simply tired of it all, but in the absence of a vaccine, it’s people’s behaviours that will keep everyone safe, said Dr Khan.

“As such, we need to continue to make sacrifices for the greater good. The pandemic still poses a great threat so it is not yet time to relax our guard. But it is stressful and frustrating indeed,” she noted.

editorial@gleanerjm.com