Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 3rd, 2020

Coronavirus Fatigue

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd May, 2020

Coronavirus behaviourAnyone who works for or with overseas aid agencies will be familiar with the expression “compassion fatigue” — the way that public sympathy, aroused notably by the Ethiopian famine of 1984, melted away after one humanitarian disaster after another was projected onto our TV screens. The latest victims of compassion fatigue are Syrian refugees, who number several million, many of them destitute, but for many Europeans compassion has been exhausted, all sympathy gone. I fear the same may happen with COVID-19, if governments and the media aren’t careful. The first few daily press conferences from Downing Street were valuable as they awakened people to the scale of the unfolding pandemic and the need for preventative measures such as social distancing and staying at home. But those press conferences have now become a bore, repetitive in format and formulaic in presentation.

Boris Johnson Downing Street press conferenceEven the journalists’ questions at the end rarely raise one’s interest. And sadly the daily toll of deaths — now declining but still several hundred — is failing to make much impact any more. This is awful, when you think how each fatality is a personal tragedy resonating among many family members, friends and colleagues. However, I would argue that “coronavirus fatigue” is at play. It’s not just that increasing numbers of people are feeling bored and frustrated by nearly six weeks without normal social contact (and in many cases, without work). The whole story of COVID-19 has become tedious. I’ve stopped watching the BBC News Channel as it is wall-to-wall coronavirus, mainly in Britain, but occasionally in other parts of the world. Instead, I have returned to my old favourite, Al Jazeera. Sure, they also give COVID-19 a fair amount of coverage, but not obsessively. So one is able to follow what is going on in Libya or Yemen, Venezuela or Japan — politics, wars and so on and some “good news” stories, too. Because a substantial degree of normal life is carrying on despite various types of lockdown round the globe. News outlets should be sure to cover ongoing events, not just COVID-19, otherwise “coronavirus fatigue” could soon mean that people will ignore the media altogether.

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