Pandemic fatigue may be setting in across much of the world
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP returned to the White House shortly before 7pm on October 5th, having been discharged from a military hospital after three nights of treatment for covid-19. With news cameras rolling, he climbed the stairs of the South Portico, removed his face-covering and flashed a thumbs-up. The president saluted, turned and entered the White House, his mask in his pocket.
The world's most famous patient is among the 7.5m Americans who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in 2020. There was a certain inevitability to Mr Trump's diagnosis. For months the president had refused to wear a face mask regularly or to distance himself adequately from others—measures that health experts say are key to containing the virus.
Mr Trump’s behaviour may be symptomatic of broader attitudes, both in America and beyond. Since March YouGov, a pollster, has asked people in 24 countries about measures they have taken to avoid infection. The results suggest that people are less vigilant today than they were only a few months ago. Early in the pandemic, in April, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were avoiding touching objects in public; by September, just over half were taking this precaution. A similar shift can be seen across a range of other safety measures including handwashing, social distancing in public spaces and quarantines.
Not everyone has become lax to the same degree. YouGov’s findings suggest that attitudes fall broadly into two camps. Respondents in Asian countries, such as China and Malaysia, as well as Middle Eastern countries such as Saudia Arabia and the UAE, exhibited high levels of support for pandemic-related safety measures, and support has fallen by just six percentage points, on average, over the past five months. In contrast, in western European, Nordic and North American countries compliance with social-distancing measures was lower in April, and has since fallen by 12 percentage points, on average.
Nevertheless, in one respect Mr Trump is an outlier. If there is one thing people across the world increasingly agree on, it is the importance of masks. In Western Europe and North America the share of people who say they wear a mask in public places has risen from an average of 27% in April to 75% in September. The president seemed to see discarding his mask as a gesture of triumph over the virus. But many will see it as one more demonstration of why Mr Trump’s leadership of the fight against it has been so flawed.
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