'Maybe if we understood what's driving these "lapses in judgement" we wouldn't be so irate'

As the pressure mounts to drive the numbers of Covid cases downwards, people are beginning to turn on one another. Amanda Cassidy delves into the psychology behind group dynamics, especially when it comes to such an emotive topic


My children lost their granny this year. It wasn't to due to Covid, but this beast of a pandemic meant limited hospital visits, ten people at her funeral, zero hugs.

My friend lost both her parents to Covid - two weeks apart. I stood outside both funerals and watched her slowly break, one tear-drenched tissue at a time.

My husband's company has been hit hard. My brother sends crying employees home, not knowing when and if their jobs will be there come December.

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Blame

We are all going through a difficult time, in different ways, of course. But the cracks are beginning to show. We are sailing in unchartered waters and that's scary, but now it is anger and blame that are threatening to cause irreparable divisions.

This week photos of RTE employees attending an "impromptu" retirement party emerged. Well-known news presenters were snapped smiling beside friends and colleagues without adhering to social distancing. Apologies were issued but the backlash from the public has been fierce.

Online, people are pointing out that they couldn't attend funerals and yet RTE employees are having a jolly. Elpenor Dignam pointed out on Twitter; "This isn’t going to go away, the public is furious having been lectured to all year by RTÉ. One rule for the Montrose millionaires another for the plebs forced to pay their obscene salaries under threat of jail"

Another made the point that there was one rule for the goose and another for the gander; "Remember when RTE went mental over students drinking cans at the Spanish Arch in Galway?"

The explanation from bosses at Montrose was dismissed by many as unacceptable: Katie Harrington wrote on social media; "When millennials break #covid19ireland rules it’s invariably because we’re selfish and entitled and fine with killing our grandparents as long as we can party. When rich middle-aged people do it, it’s a “lapse in judgment".

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Tensions have been slowly mounting within our society, friends telling on each other for going 6km instead of 5km, people irate about the traffic on the roads. For those who have followed the restrictions to the letter, it is tough to see others not adhering. It is hard to live with the sacrifices made when it seems as if others couldn't be bothered.

But maybe the problem is that we are aiming our vitriol at the wrong target. Rules can only work if there is buy-in from all and this time around, not everyone is as dedicated to Tony Holohan's tough measures.

Decoy

What is true is that the tension between economics and health does need to be rebalanced -  without bringing out the pitchforks.

Of course, saving lives is a straightforward motivator. Who would argue with that? But blaming your neighbours or friends or RTE presenters for what is actually the government's failure when it comes to public health policy and care capacity isn't the way forward. It is a decoy.

The lack of precedence has complicated things. The media’s immediate preoccupation with Covid meant that we quickly became familiar with a host of ominous projections. Remember back when we were all instantly expert virologists?

Watching it play out on the news, and being exposed to the numbers and the graphs may have also produced what is called the illusionary truth effect. This is the tendency to believe information to be true as a result of repeated exposure, even if it turns out to be less than projected.

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The problem is that the fear of those projections remains long after they have changed course.

Naughty, naughty

While case numbers have fluctuated, the hospital rates, ICU rates, and mortality rates have remained stable over the same period.

As a consequence, this alarmist narrative has also made it easier for public policy to be dictated with a parent-child effect as Irish Times writer Jennifer O'Connell points out in her recent article;

"The blizzard of speculation over Christmas is infuriating and infantilising. It’s also a convenient distraction from what the Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) should be doing, which is figuring out how to reverse the country out of the ill-conceived purgatory of Level 5 with minimal further damage."

Constant referrals to our 'behaviour' are reductive and dismaying. This bold child attitude has weaved its way into our own day to day lives. We are getting to the stage that we are just short of listening with glasses to the neighbour's walls.

And as necessary as some might feel that is, it is undoubtedly also eroding our community.

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The panicked catch-cry of numbers rising isn't taking into account that from August to October, while case numbers have fluctuated, the hospital rates, ICU rates, and mortality rates have remained stable over the same period.

The average mortality rate in the last three months was 5 people per 1,000 confirmed cases. According to the latest figures from the CSO, that's down from a peak of 74 per 1,000 in April.

Same day, different lockdown

In other words, the narrative is being framed around the number of cases (median age up to this week was 36 years old) which doesn't take into account that this isn't the same as lockdown 101. And that's why some are not treating it in the same way.

We've learnt a lot since the shock of March. We now know we should be more aware of the aerosol spread rather than wiping down our groceries, we understand ventilation and that being outdoors reduces the chances of spread. We know that the death rates from COVID are also falling globally because of better treatments and better testing.

That's not to say we should not follow the restrictions or that those in RTE did nothing wrong. But maybe if we understood what was driving these lapses we wouldn't be as irate all the time.

Jaded

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And in that landscape, one major problem is blame and how we are turning on each other. It means accountability is moving away from those who are more responsible towards those with the least influence, away from the collective to the individual.

We took the bitter pill already. We sat, shell-shocked at home from March until August mentally drawing rainbows about how we were all 'in this together'. We sacrificed so much...and yet, here we are again discussing ICU capacity limitations because our leaders dropped the ball back when our collective efforts had brought the virus under control.

And that's why there are some of us who have shifted our attention instead towards prioritising the other tsunami of sadness that is coming our way - the jobless, the abused, the alcoholics born today.

It isn't unpatriotic to say that the government panicked when level three was starting to work and shut down the wrong things.

Cracks

It isn't unpatriotic to say that the government panicked when level three was starting to work and shut down the wrong things. I'm not NOT 'in this together' by believing that we will pay for this pent up period by a third lockdown in January because we all went nuts on release.

We do have to live with this virus, not lock ourselves away twitching the curtains.

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Instead obsessing over air travel even though we have an open border with the reddest of the red zone, or tweeting about people drinking outside, let's focus our energy on lobbying for the things we know do work.

Because lockdown isn't necessarily the golden ticket out of here that we've all been lead to believe. The play, pause, play, pause effect on our lives can't be the answer. We do have to live with this virus, not lock ourselves away twitching the curtains. As Regina Doherty said today, we need to“get a plan B” to manage the response to Covid-19, saying that rolling lockdowns were not working.

We need to focus on things like rapid testing and forensic contact tracing, more hospital beds, better nursing home safeguards, being aware of the mind warp that has come with having all the fun stuff taken away, and by using our common sense.

As O'Connell puts it so succinctly," in 10 years' time when we look back, we are likely to say that the best thing about the vaccine arriving in 2021 was the lives it saved.

And that the second best thing was that we remembered how dysfunctional it is to have this level of State interference in our private lives."

image via unsplash.com 

Read more: The perfect storm for women created by the pandemic

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Read more: The rise of the Covid curtain twitchers

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