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Europeans suffering 'pandemic fatigue' from coronavirus disruption, warns WHO

Ross McGuinness
·4-min read
Medical staff and nurses wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus gather during a protest demanding an improvement in wages and labor conditions at the 12 Octubre hospital in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. Health authorities combating coronavirus in Madrid are adding a further eight areas of the Spanish capital to those with movement restrictions but have not followed a recommendation from the national government that the partial lockdown should apply to the whole city. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Medical staff wearing face masks in Madrid, Spain, where a partial lockdown is in place. (AP)

Europeans are suffering “pandemic fatigue” from the disruption caused by the spread of coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

It said levels of pandemic fatigue had reached more than 60% in some countries.

The WHO said many people across Europe are less motivated about following COVID-19 guidelines after months of uncertainty.

The warning came as the WHO and scientists said face masks are less effective in the rain at halting the spread of coronavirus.

The organisation outlined three calls to action to help the continent get back on track in its battle against coronavirus.

“Since the virus arrived in the European region eight months ago, citizens have made huge sacrifices to contain COVID-19,” said Dr Hans Henri Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe.

“It has come at an extraordinary cost, which has exhausted all of us, regardless of where we live, or what we do. In such circumstances it is easy and natural to feel apathetic and demotivated, to experience fatigue.”

Watch: Madrid faces new lockdown, Europe cases rise

Dr Kluge said that, based on survey data from countries across Europe, pandemic fatigue is on the increase.

“Although fatigue is measured in different ways, and levels vary per country, it is now estimated to have reached over 60% in some cases,” he said.

“Although we are all weary, I believe it is possible to reinvigorate and revive efforts to tackle the evolving COVID-19 challenges that we face.”

He outlined three strategies for nations to get on the front foot in tackling coronavirus.

Firstly, he said policy must be driven by gathering evidence of people’s behaviours and experiences of fatigue, from young people returning to university to the elderly in care homes.

He said the WHO has worked with the 27 EU nations to gather data with a behavioural insights tool that measures pandemic fatigue.

Dr Kluge also cited the example of Hertfordshire in the UK, where health officials are tracking the community’s feelings on coronavirus restrictions through an online platform.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 23: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY â MANDATORY CREDIT - "RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY PRESS SERVICE / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (not seen) in Moscow, Russia on September 23, 2020. (Photo by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The World Health Organization's regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri Kluge, said 'pandemic fatigue' has set in across the continent. (Getty Images)

The second call to action involves working with communities to “co-create interventions”.

He said: “It is essential that we respond together and that communities own response policies with authorities.

“Consultation, participation and an acknowledgement of the hardships that people are facing are key if we are to have truly effective policies. The community should be considered a resource, as well as a recipient or beneficiary.

“Citizens are at the heart of a solution to the pandemic and policy-makers should treat them as such.”

The third strategy involves “meeting the needs of citizens in new, innovative ways”.

He gave examples of floating cinemas and social bubbles as ways in which people can connect with others without breaking social distancing guidelines.

Watch: Paris bars to shut as French capital on max alert

In the UK, Manchester has the highest infection rate, with positive coronavirus tests doubling in one week.

A total of 2,927 new cases were recorded in Manchester in the seven days to October 2 – the equivalent of 529.4 cases per 100,000, up from 246.4 in the previous week.

The updated figures followed a technical glitch which meant almost 16,000 positive tests went unreported.

In Spain, two more cities, Leon and Palencia, went into lockdown on Tuesday, following a number of other cities, including Madrid, which are facing some level of restrictions.

The country has had more than 813,000 coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In France, reinforced restrictions forced bars in Paris to close from Tuesday as the COVID-19 alert was raised to its maximum level. France reported more than 12,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

In Germany, four out of 12 districts in Berlin are in the “red zone”, based on the last seven days’ new cases, meaning there have been more than 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, as officials consider new restrictions in the capital.

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