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A Diary of the Covid Days

“Do you know what you never hear about these days??”

“Wha’?”

“The Covid. The Brother won’t have a bar of it above in the digs. Here’s me bus.”

Which is how Flann O’Brien might have commented upon the virtual disappearance from public discourse of almost any mention of the virus that was going to kill us all stone dead. Anyways, just in case you are missing all the charts and all, the latest statistics up until today are that there were 2,273 reported new cases and a further 4 Covid related deaths. Global numbers too appear to be well down at just 702.

Unbeknownst to most people the trusty people at the Economic and Social Research Institute’s Behavioural Research Unit – BRU, or even BRÚ for those of you of a Gaelic Orwellian disposition – has been tracking focus groups of 1,000 adults over the age of 18 in order to monitor people’s reaction to the panic and the measures taken by the state to deal with it.

Unfortunately, this work only began in February 2021 so we have little insight into the initial response which would have been most interesting. The latest report from Wave 32 covering the week from April 19th to 26th is, however, worth looking at as a screenshot of the national Covid psyche in comparison with some of the earlier waves.

The most notable finding perhaps, and one which explains the disappearance of The Covid as an ice breaker at virtual parties is that fewer and fewer people are “following the news about Covid.” This is not through their own decision to spend their time in better ways like reading, talking to their dogs or searching for Utube videos of Big Foot, but because the powers that be have another new thing to tell them about. Every Day. All Day.

 

April 19 – 26

 

The other major change from when the research began in early 2021 is that the proportion of those surveyed who “rarely” or “never” engage in “mitigative behaviours” has risen dramatically to just under 50%. Perhaps more worthy of note is the fact that even with the clear falling off in the number and seriousness of cases that a large number of people still engage in such mitigative behaviour even when it is no longer required or even recommended.

 

 

That group obviously includes the 24% of those who still believe that the measures in place are insufficient, even in the current circumstances. 69% of those surveyed believe that the current response is appropriate and 80% support the measures still in place.

Similarly there is a clear gap in perception between the majority of those who believe that all restrictions will be lifted over the next six months and almost 20% who think that this will not happen in less than a year. Many people have clearly bought into this for the long haul.

It is fascinating to look back at some of the earlier reports which were based on research conducted at periods when public concern was very high. In the first report from the week beginning January 25, 2021 8% of those surveyed said that they had not left their home in the previous seven days. 27% had not shopped for food, 47% had not walked in their own neighbourhood and half had had no social contact with anyone outside of their own household or work place.

 

That was less than 18 months ago, and the levels of social isolation and fear were most likely far higher at various stages in 2020. We know too that this fed into and encouraged a not particularly healthy psychological trait in which many people tended to blame other people for the transmission of the virus due to the behaviour of others. In late January 2021 90% of people believed that they were observing restrictions better than anyone else.

More than a third of respondents complained that other people were not observing restrictions on social distancing in shops. This acute sensitivity to the possible agency of others in spreading the virus is a constant theme through the 32 reports. The importance of the state information flow was underlined by that report’s reference to those who were likely to be least compliant as being “people who said they do not follow news.”

The level of fear remained high at this time last year. In the first week of April 2021 39% of those surveyed had not been for a walk, and 47% had met nobody outside of their own household.  The authors of the report were however happy to report that the “perceived burden of restrictions had fallen.” 75% agreed that preventing the virus was more important than the restrictions and 60% believed that the restrictions were here for the “long term.” 80% of those asked said that they would take the vaccine.

 

Wave 6, April 5th – April 12th

 

The censorious tone of the written reports is perhaps amusing in retrospect. For example, it was pointed out that “nearly 1 in 2 do not realise that speaking at a high volume increases the risk.”  By August last year, the BRUsters had even come up with Stasi type categories of “socialisers” and “non-mitigators” who were either doing what it says on the box and wantonly socialising, or in the camp of minor offenders who were generally being good but “washing their hands less than half the time.”

If you were part of the worst kind of “non-mitigating socialisers” whose deviancy is dissected below then it was the view of the great and the good that you deserved nothing better than a running kick in the arse.

By this stage 80% of those surveyed had said they were fully vaccinated. This of course was at the time when having a Covid vaccination certificate was like having the latest Gucci bag or Nike trainers depending on whether ones homies were in Blackrock or Blanch. And of course, there is no point in having the latest thing if everyone does not know you have it. Hence a third of the lucky ticket holders complained that some places were not asking them to flash the cert and prove to the world that they were Good People.

 

The last, hopefully, surge of panic was around Christmas just gone when the Omicron variant hit town. A full 10% of those surveyed were currently isolating or self-restricting and 6% claimed to have symptoms. The BRU reported that the week of January 4th to 11th had witnessed the “largest decline in social activity” over the entire course of the study.

This led to a corresponding decline in non-mitigation and other boldness and more people were watching the news. Just 20% thought that the restrictions then in place were too extreme, but 34% were expecting and perhaps hoping that there would be even more to come. 36% thought that the restrictions would last for at least another year. Just 40% thought they would be lifted before that. Remember this is only 16 or 17 weeks ago.

Vaccination levels were reported to be 86.5% with just 5.3% stating that they had no intentions of getting the jab. What is more interesting and certainly contrasts with the media led public pressure at the time is the significant number of people – 35.6% – who said that they would not have their child under the age of 12 vaccinated. Just 39.3% said that they would.

Happily, all of this now seems to be behind us. We have moved on to happier new pastures complete with new avatars and new groups comprised of people we mostly never met to “Stand With.” If nothing else, someday, reports such as these and the way in which the Covid Panic was handled and reported upon will perhaps make for some interesting historical research. Unless the Winston Smiths of the Ministry of Truth have managed to create a different history.

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