The use of the term “pandemic fatigue” in the World Health Organization report is misleading (While Sturgeon takes decisive action on Covid, Johnson just blusters, 8 October). The report is concerned with the increase in non-compliance with regulations designed to counter Covid-19. It lists many putative reasons for non-compliance, including reduced trust in authorities, decreases in perceptions of risk, increased complacency and changes in values (eg, an increased emphasis on libertarianism).
This matters because different reasons for non-compliance must be countered with different policies: increased libertarianism requires government information to emphasise our interdependence, increased complacency requires incentives to abide by regulations, errors in risk perception require better risk communication. Referring to every one of these very different phenomena as fatigue implies that the same policy is appropriate for dealing with them all.
In the report, fatigue is defined as demotivation and that all factors causing non-compliance demotivate people from abiding by regulations. This is disingenuous. In a footnote, the correct definition of fatigue is given as “exhaustion, tiredness, a feeling of being worn out”. Demotivation and exhaustion may coincide, but often do not. Pandemic fatigue is no more a real phenomenon now than behavioural fatigue was in March.
Prof Nigel Harvey
University College London
• Gaby Hinsliff’s article begins to discuss some of the issues emerging now that it is becoming likely that Covid-19 is a long-term problem. However, the use of the term fatigue underplays the significance of people’s increasing resistance to the restrictions placed upon their lives. This is becoming an issue of fundamental values.
The disagreements are often portrayed as between differing scientific positions, and opposition to the scientific consensus as being “fringe” or anti-science. But this misses a key point that as well as scientific questions, the management of the problem is just as much, if not more, a matter of values, about which science has no authority.
The measures being taken are an offence to some of our most fundamental values, which are core to our sense of what it is to live a meaningful life. While the betrayal of such values may be accepted in the short-term, the prolonged imposition of the rules is increasingly feeling like an act of intolerable oppression.
This is not fatigue; on the contrary, it is the healthy rebellion of the human spirit against constraints that are crushing it. It is not some weakness against which scientists must seek to devise methods of social management; it is the most basic human emotional needs crying out in protest. Now that it is becoming clear that the problem is likely to be with us for a long time, people will quite rightly not be able or willing to tolerate the indefinite impoverishment of their lives, and a way to manage the pandemic while not continuing to deprive people of their fundamental liberties must be found.
• Gaby Hinsliff, almost by accident, points out how strangely soft we have become. I think back to my childhood in the 1940s and 50s when things like having a glass of wine with a friend in their garden weren’t even thought about, pandemic or not. We didn’t go anywhere. In the late 1950s, we got lucky with a holiday in Cornwall once a year. As my father would have said, “You don’t know you’re born”.