The death toll from Covid-19 in Australia in 2022 is higher than in all of 2020 and 2021 combined. This is why the staggering numbers are received with apathy.
If I told you that the Covid-19 death toll in Australia in just four months of 2022 was more than double the total number of pandemic deaths from the previous two years, would you be shocked?
Or would you shrug and put it aside next to the horrors of lockdowns and daily press conferences and fears of the unknown of 2020 and 2021?
The numbers are very real. More than 4,500 have been killed this year, according to the federal government’s health ministry, compared to just 2,239 in the past two years.
But how we process them has changed.
Maree Teesson is Professor of Psychology at the University of Sydney and Director of the Matilda Center for Research in Mental Health.
She says she’s surprised at how quickly Australians give up, but she understands what’s behind it.
“Basically I think Australians really care about each other, so it’s quite confrontational that we stopped,” she told news.com.au.
“But it’s understandable.”
She says Australians have “become so tolerant of the number of cases and deaths”, in part because they can tolerate intense fear of something only so long before their minds start actively avoiding it.
“People respond to fear with fight or flight. And fear was the main motivator used very heavily for behavior change during the pandemic.
“It was extremely effective at increasing social distancing and the spread of viruses, but it’s also a very blunt tool for change. And while it motivated people to take social distancing, it reduced social cohesion and connection in our community.”
She said the pandemic has left people feeling “powerless” over the spread of the virus and that “it can then be more easily avoided and shut down”.
“We have damaged the social connections that keep us mentally healthy and a caring community and we will have to work to rebuild them.”
Prof Teesson said the “apparent indifference to the death rates for me is a canary in the mine for a bigger social problem – a lack of social connection”.
“It’s the pointed end of the stick,” she said.
There’s another reason Prof Teesson thinks people have turned away from their obsession with daily Covid deaths.
“Context is very important,” she says. “The fact is that now, compared to two years ago, we have a really effective vaccine. So for most people who have been vaccinated, [getting Covid-19] becomes a mild disease.”
She said the experience of the pandemic, including being separated from friends and family, will have a lasting impact, especially on young people.
“We’re definitely worried about things popping up on the road.” said Prof. Teesson.
“We have seen an increase in anxiety and depression. That won’t go away without us tackling it. “The pandemic has a long tail. Basically it comes back to enabling these drivers and not being able to just disable them.”
University of South Australia biostatistician Professor Adrian Esterman said: the guard that apathy to the virus is dangerous, despite it no longer being “an absolute acute emergency”.
“We may have another variant tomorrow, which is worse than Delta,” he said.
The study of why people are mentally disengaged from the pandemic is nothing new.
The Atlantic Ocean spoke with Lori Peek, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies disasters. She asked the simple question, “Is our national empathy — our care and love and concern for each other — at such a low level that we don’t really feel, in our bones, in our hearts and in our souls, the magnitude of the loss? ?”
David Dozois, a professor of clinical psychology in Ontario, Canada, wrote for The Conversation that “cautionary fatigue” was the cause.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, many people were very concerned,” he wrote. They didn’t know what Covid-19 was, how bad it was going to get and how best to deal with it.
“They have received information… on how to control this virus and stay safe; they took the necessary precautions.
“As time went on, many people experienced caution fatigue – they felt less motivated or inclined to follow expert advice on Covid-19 and grew increasingly tired of physical distancing, maintaining good hand hygiene, following the arrows in local supermarkets and wearing masks.
“As good as the advice was to ‘stay at home,’ people wanted to get out and see friends and family.”
That is the driving force behind Australia’s current response to the Omicron wave, says Prof. Teesson.
“We had two years to focus on the fear, often feeling powerless. Then it is easier to avoid and shut down.”
South Australia recorded two Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday. Six lives have been lost in Queensland to Covid-19. There were 15 Covid-19 deaths in NSW and 14 in Victoria on Wednesday.
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