As the PM and the Federal Health Minister continue to tell Australians that ‘life can’t go back to normal’ until many more of us download the CovidSafe app, a new survey shows that a significant number of Australians would be unlikely to go to the pub, even if they could.
The Federal government’s latest plan to prompt Australians to download its coronavirus tracking app has been labelled “coercive” and “not cool” after the three major mobile carriers sent text messages to customers earlier this week urging them to download the government app to their device.
The messages were sent in response to a formal government request from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s office but were met with a mixed response from the general public and many took to social media to vent their views, with one persona calling the ‘direct marketing’ campaign “emotional, social and economic blackmail … demeaning and inappropriate, a betrayal of Liberal values”.
Several others suggested there was no point in downloading the app because it is not yet working properly anyway. While glitches are expected to be ironed out sometime later this week, the Government has had its fair share of criticism over functionality problems including the fact that currently, health officials cannot view or use the data collected by the app and that the app has had some compatibility issues for iPhone users.
But – ironically – in amongst all the discussion about getting life back to normal a new survey suggests that a significant number of Australians may remain hesitant to venture out of their homes or gather in large groups even if the nation’s various coronavirus restrictions are eased or lifted.
A survey of 2,225 people done by Vox Pop Labs in collaboration with the ABC showed that less than half of the people surveyed would be comfortable going to a bar or restaurant, only about one in eight Australians would attend a large event even if they could, and fewer than one in five would get on a plane.
Social media is also full of concern from parents who are due to send children back to school one day per week under the NSW Government’s plan for term two. Any parent will tell you that schools tend to be germ incubators and breeding grounds for anything from head lice to snotty noses and whooping cough, but they keep being told their concerns are not valid.
This public discomfort presents a serious concern. Not just for the government, but for hundreds of thousands of small businesses who have already been all but financially crippled, despite the economic stimulus. These small businesses would need to restock and prepare themselves to re-open at considerable expense – money they might not have after weeks of limited trading or mandatory closure, and money they have to put at risk, and lose, if customers don’t come immediately when doors reopen. Many are already grappling with how they will ensure their profitability under a new range of regulations which include social distancing measures and limited patronage.
Fear of a ‘second wave’
As the government focuses on getting people back to work ‘safely’ and plans to open up some sectors, there is a great deal of community concern that it could be ‘too much, too soon’ and any complacency around social distancing and good hygiene could create a second wave of the pandemic.
And while there will be no perfect time to ease lockdowns, it is not difficult to understand this apprehension.
After weeks of being bombarded with negative stories and statistics, in many ways it seems perfectly natural that people would have cultivated a genuine sense of fear and vulnerability – after all, these are the strong emotional responses which made us compliant with lockdowns in the first place.
The coronavirus ‘crisis’ has been difficult to ignore – updates have been 24/7 across all forms of media. Businesses, were closed. Parliaments were shut down, new ‘emergency’ laws’ were introduced. People were penalised with expensive fines for doing the wrong thing. We’ve been continuously told by all in authority these are ‘unprecedented times.’
On top of this, we’ve been guinea pigs of a great ‘social experiment’ called social isolation.
Psychologists say as the lockdowns ease it’s legitimate that people will have mixed emotions for some time to come – excitement that restrictions are loosening, coupled with feelings of trepidation, particularly as there are still ‘unexplained’ transmissions in some communities and several small pockets of live cases of the coronavirus.
‘Normal’ is a long way off
Of course, the best thing for people’s mental health is to have life return to some sense of normalcy, and as soon as possible – the longer people are locked up the more severe the effect on mental and emotional wellbeing.
Earlier this year, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) was one organisation that warned that the effects of social isolation during the pandemic could be severe and long term, reporting that anxiety and apathy, as well as loneliness are some of the mental health consequences, along with increased feelings of depression and stress, especially during a time of uncertainty.
The EPHA wrote that these are likely to “have serious impacts on public health, increasing people’s vulnerability to poor health, and weakening society as a whole.”