Psychological fatigue behind crowds gathering in public: Experts

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They say psychological fatigue and false sense of security are behind crowds gathering in public places

Singapore has weathered Covid-19 for over half a year, and the battle against the virus is increasingly becoming a mental one.

Psychological fatigue and a false sense of security are behind the crowds gathering at beaches, restaurants and shops, said experts.

This is particularly since community cases remain low despite many businesses opening again.

After months of facing the strain of Covid-19, it is inevitable that individuals start to let down their guard, become complacent or simply frustrated, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

And this can lead to careless behaviour.

This was clearly the case on Sunday, when crowds gathered to watch Red Lions parachuters land at a grass patch next to Sengkang General Hospital, and some people ended up arguing with safe distancing ambassadors trying desperately to maintain a semblance of the rules.

While most Singaporeans are rule-abiding, there are always those who push the boundaries and take unnecessary risks, noted sociologist Pauline Straughan.

This could either be due to ignorance, or - when enforcement officers are not around - "simply because they can".

"So what we need is constant reminders, and rule enforcement to guard the boundaries," she added.

Prof Teo said to stem such behaviour, public education is paramount, which means constant reminders on what is risky and what is not.

Equally important is cultivating a sense of restraint and control, he added.

"Forbearance, by individuals as well as by the enforcers of rules and regulations, is important," he said.

"If one does forget to wear a mask or abide by safe distancing regulations genuinely, it's important that the public and enforcers do not be too quick to castigate... But of course, if one is clearly recalcitrant, then penalties and sanctions ought to apply."

Another reason for the spike in cases in several countries is the lifting of lockdowns prematurely.

Indeed, the World Health Organisation has stressed that countries should ease restrictions only when they have put in place adequate systems to track, trace and isolate all cases in the country.

Singapore appears to have done so, by its slow and careful entry into the new normal, done in phases and with the riskiest activities still on hold for now.

"The pace of reopening in Singapore is quite reasonable, when you consider what has happened in countries that reopened too soon and too fast," said Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.


Still, a cluster could happen any time and anywhere.

To protect themselves, Singaporeans should be prudent and maintain a limited number of contacts during this period, Prof Teo said.

He added: "However, if one of your contacts is a social butterfly and continues to maintain a very diverse social circle, then clearly your risk is still amplified.

"This is why we keep emphasising that the success of keeping Covid-19 at bay depends on everyone's cooperation, to keep to the spirit of the regulations around social activities in order to protect the community.

"Just because we can meet up with four other friends during this period does not mean we take advantage of this and meet up with many different groups of four others.

"This is a privilege that can just as easily be rescinded if the Covid-19 situation in the community flares up again."