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Public may be suffering from ‘variant fatigue’ scientists advise Welsh Government

11 Jan 2022 2 minute read
Covid at winter

The public may be suffering from “variant fatigue” and are less likely to engage with news about Covid-19 and to pay attention to the dangers even when a new variant does appear, scientists have advised the Welsh Government.

The latest advice from the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell cites a paper co-authored by an academic from Swansea University’s School of Psychology to say that the public’s readiness to adhere to restrictions could be on the wane.

Focus groups were conducted with 22 adults to explore their views of the new Omicron variant as part of the study by Simon Williams and others.

“Findings suggest that 18 months into the pandemic, there may be fatigue regarding the risk posed by COVID-19, despite the increased risk posed by the new variant
Omicron,” the TAC report says.

“Due to this risk habituation and general decline in engagement with news related to COVID-19, many people may not be, or might be reluctant to, voluntarily adopt additional caution and infection-reducing behaviours.

“This poses a challenge for public health communication, since a sense of being ‘relaxed’ about, or ‘living with’ COVID-19 may undermine efforts to encourage voluntary adherence to infection reducing behaviours.

“However, findings suggest that most people intend to adhere (albeit reluctantly) with policy measures (as opposed to ‘advice’).”

The TAC report also draws attention to another study that suggests that worry about Covid may already be “returning to pre-Omicron levels”.

The aim of the study was to investigate changes in people’s beliefs and behaviours following news of the Omicron variant and associated guidance.

It also found that “understanding of the new rules was low, with people over-estimating the new rules”.

“Beliefs about worry and perceived risk of COVID-19 fluctuated over time, with worry, perceived risk to self and perceived risk to people increasing slightly around the time of the announcement about Omicron, then returning to pre-Omicron levels,” the TAC report said.

The TAC report was given to the Welsh Government on 7 January, one day after the First Minister decided to leave restrictions in place in Wales. An update is expected on Friday.

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