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‘We are in for the long haul’: Canadians experience fatigue amid fourth wave


By Noushin Ziafati

Ever since the Omicron variant surfaced in Canada, Carissa Ainslie has been constantly on the hunt for the latest COVID-19 updates.

“It’s definitely dampened my spirit,” the downtown Toronto resident said.

Ainslie said the pandemic has felt “bleak,” but the new variant has only made things “bleaker” and brought on a sense of hopelessness.

“Every morning, (I’m) checking those COVID numbers and just kind of feeling frustrated,” she said.

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Experts say pandemic fatigue is being widely felt in Canada and are urging people to keep their guard up as cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant rise. They suggest politicians and public health figures include positive elements in their messaging to keep residents engaged in the fight against the virus.

David Dozois, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario, said some people have become “desensitized” to COVID-19, and as a result, are experiencing “caution fatigue.”

He described caution fatigue in the face of the pandemic as demotivation to follow expert advice about COVID-19 and growing more tired of measures such as physical distancing, good hand washing and wearing masks.

“Early on, when the pandemic first broke, the alarm system went off, and we felt anxious because this was an unknown entity. And I think as time has gone on, you know, even something that is truly potentially dangerous, we start to habituate to it, we start to get used to it,” Dozois explained.

“So, I think it’s really the notion of kind of getting tired of keeping our guard up.”

Igor Grossmann, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo, said this kind of fatigue is also a “social phenomenon.”

“Depending on who you talk to, depending on who you see, depending on where you get the information, you may believe that this (virus) is less severe than it actually is,” he said.

Dr. Adam Kassam, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said many have been experiencing pandemic fatigue for months, but he urged people to remain cautious and hopeful.

“While we have this challenge with the variant in our midst over the course of the next four weeks, we also have to recognize that this … is just a bump in the road,” he said.

Grossmann said one thing that can help people cope with pandemic fatigue is realizing that others are going through similar challenges.

Thor Henrikson, who lives in Halifax, has been tuning in to COVID-19 updates more since the emergence of Omicron and feeling “tired,” he said.

“It’s a new twist and we don’t know, despite science and medicine, their best guess and forecasts, we don’t really know what is going to happen and that’s fatiguing, the constant state of not really knowing what the future is,” said Henrikson.

As someone who lost his job at the start of the pandemic, Henrikson said the stress that has come with COVID-19 has been “cumulative.”

Kassam said positive messaging would go a long way in framing the conversation about the ongoing COVID-19 response, noting the vaccine rollout as something to be optimistic about.

“Sometimes progress can be uneven. And we’ve seen that back and forth over the past 20 months,” he said.

“I’m focused on optimism, I’m focused on the future, I’m focused on positive messaging. I think that is what we need to shift towards as a society, focusing on some of the unity that we need to build during the holiday periods and focusing on what will invariably be a better 2022 than a 2021.”

As for ensuring people remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19, Dozois said public health officials and politicians should “think outside the box” when it comes to sharing public health advice and updates, rather than “just listing restrictions.”

“I think people are tired of that, understandably. I mean, I think we need to continue to do that as well, but I think there might be ways of trying to help people think differently about it,” he said.

Politicians would also benefit from being “more straightforward” and “more transparent” when communicating what they know and do not know about COVID-19, Grossmann said, and collaborating with social science and mental health experts in an effort to address pandemic fatigue.

Ultimately, Grossmann said people should not lose sight that “we are in for a long haul.”

“This is not something that will be over quickly. In hindsight, that makes sense, because what I just said is not rocket science, but we often forget that because we hope that it will be over soon,” he said. “So keeping this bigger picture in mind can help us prepare for this marathon.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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