So, here we are, 2022!
In an era of regular sepia-tinted self-motivating e-posters stating “Every day is a new beginning”, the beginning of a new year is certainly celebrated and revered as a magical beginning of all great changes.
31st December nights bring with it a rush of energy, hope and confidence to overcome all the hurdles that seemed unbeatable till the same morning.
Billions of resolutions are made, some strong-willed, others not so much; from taking out the trash daily to quitting substance use.
However, all this positive vibe of a new year beginning has been marred to some extent in the last two years.
2020 began with an unprecedented life-altering scenario of lockdowns, quarantines, loss and uncertainty of lives and living.
Since then, statisticians, medical professionals, astrologers and the common men have tried to predict the ending of this pandemic.
2021 was expected to be the year that brings back normalcy to our lives in which it grandly failed.
Thus, the beginning of 2022 has more come with trepidations, than the hope of normalcy.
But, how has the public sentiment adapted to the return of another year of this pandemic needs looking into, especially when the year-end introduced the new variant of Omicron and the celebration gatherings started showing a proportional rise in the number of COVID-19 infections.
Pandemic Fatigue, Public Apathy and Misinformation
The majority of the population has started to come to terms with the belief that we might never get back to the life that was usual before the pandemic.
Many have accepted work-from-home as the new-normal work-style, the grief from the loss of loved ones has finally lost its intense agony, the sharp economic loss has started to smoothen out, and getting detected with the COVID-19 infection is no more met with a dread of death.
These are great changes because eventually, life has to accept, adapt and adjust to a persistent stressor.
However, the persistence of the pandemic has also led to a sense of burnout and fatigue in the population, where the panic has been replaced with a sense of “indifference and helpless apathy”.
COVID protocols seem like a thing of the past, a reminder to mask up is either met with snarky remarks of being pedantic, or just a smirk.
The government, as well as the common man, has started to believe that social distancing cannot work for the long term.
Thus gatherings of all kinds, from political election rallies, religious celebrations and grand weddings are back in full grandeur.
Numerous people in these crowds have voiced that they do not want to think of the pandemic anymore, and this speaks volumes about the sentiment of apathy that has crept in over these two years.
Despite this change in public sentiment from fear to disregard, the thing that has not changed much is the constant supply of misinformation over social media.
While people are spreading unabated hope that Omicron is the strain that is going to act as a vaccine rather than a disease, the conspiracy theorists continue to write manifestos about the origin and prognosis of COVID-19.
The anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers continue to spread reasons not to follow whatever evidence-based practices that we have managed to come up with.
A section of social media is still busy spreading upscaled fear about the steeply increasing numbers, illness and deaths of celebrities etc., while the government sources fight tooth and nail to present more sugar-coated scenarios, thus leaving the mass in confused complacence.
Such is the “chaos” created within the civilized homo sapiens by a viral particle.
Emotional Roller-coaster or Lessons of Resilience?
So, consulting in our busy clinics, we cannot but wonder what this new year of pandemic has in store for us.
We see the old patients who had dropped out two years back, because of the lockdown, returning to meet us, after the in-patient OPDs re-opened.
At the same time we apprehend the forecast of another wave hitting us soon, forcing another lockdown and thus disrupting healthcare again.
We see patients recovering slowly from the anxiety and mood disorders they had at the onset of the pandemic, and think to ourselves if these individuals have gathered enough resilience to sail through.
It makes us happy to find the patients and attendants talk about how they have now re-shaped their lives, keeping in mind that COVID-19 is here to stay.
It makes us content to see when one person reminds another to pull their mask above the nose and he complies.
But, at the same time, the plastic screen on my table stands as a reminder of all the dreadful effects that this disease has left us with and that we still have a long road of uncertainty to walk.
Also, I remember each night how many colleagues and loved ones I have lost due to the virus, and more due to public apathy. I have nightmares about cities gasping due to lack of oxygen and few months later incorrigibly celebrating devoid of all precautions.
Outside the clinics, the news of more and more acquaintances, colleagues and friends testing positive keeps rolling into the inbox, the departmental group sends daily reminders that the ‘cases’ are increasing, the resident doctors’ groups are abuzz with anticipation of COVID ICUs becoming busier over next few weeks and physicians wonder how much longer will “frontliners” bear the brunt of mass callousness in the name of duty!
The year seems to have come to check on how well we have learned from our mistakes in the last ‘new year’. The question that haunts us is whether we are forgetting the past a bit too early?
The pandemic will eventually cease, it’s up to us to decide what we take forward and how we deal with the scars left behind.
(Dr Chandrima Naskar is a Senior Resident, PGIMER, in Chandigarh and Dr Debanjan Banerjee is a Consultant Geriatric Psychiatrist, in Kolkata)
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