Misc 27/10/2020

"If people feel that governments are improvising, they lose trust"

Anxiety and anger condition behaviour in the face of harsher restrictions

Gemma Garrido Granger
3 min
“Si la gent sent que els governs improvisen, perd la confiança”

Santa Coloma de GramenetAt home, at work, or in chatting with friends: the frustration at the idea of returning to a lockdown to stop the advance of the coronavirus is on everyone's lips. Even more so since the curfew has been imposed and the possibility of a weekend lockdown is hinted at. People are afraid that their life will consist of going from home to work and from work to home - if not working from home - via the supermarket, and with no space for leisure. "I don't even watch the news because I get irritated," some say. Others say that they hardly ever leave their homes and that they will end up paying for other people's actions. But if there is one clear point according to the experts consulted by ARA, it is that it is increasingly difficult to convince people that these enormous social - and economic - sacrifices are useful.

"We humans need to understand things, we don't know how to obey without any kind of explanation behind it", says Ingeborg Porcar, director of the trauma, crisis and conflict unit at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. If people get angry it's not because confinement alone generates irritability or because they are against what a politician says, but because they don't understand the management of the pandemic. "They give us orders and the general perception is that they are explaining things badly, or that they are doing things in bits and pieces. Cooperation is shaky," she continues, "so if people feel that governments are improvising, they lose trust."

According to experts, citizens reject limitations if the authorities show that they do not know why they are imposing them, if leadership is lacking or if they act on the basis of trial and error. Yesterday, for example, exceptions to the curfew were announced and the words had to be qualified hours later, to clarify, for example, that takeaway delivery services could operate until 10 p.m. "The authorities have to be credible and consistent in order to get the people's complicity and collaboration. By admitting mistakes, avoiding promises that cannot be kept or not suggesting measures they are unsure of, they gain credibility and citizen cooperation," Porcar sums up.

The loss of freedoms

The psychologist and member of the governing board of the Official College of Psychology of Catalonia Dolors Liria argues that if the population receives the restrictions as a punishment or a questioning of one's own behaviour perhaps they will consider breaking them. "And that's why it's so important to make the public undertand that although they don't have all the responsibility, they do have an important role", the psychotherapist explains.

She agrees with Porcar, who says that good political leadership involves analysing why restrictions don't work. "What you can't do, and what you can pay dearly for, is spend all day scolding the population, without admitting your own mistakes or giving explanations. If the idea of weekend lockdowns is born, it's not just because people don't pay attention: many do make sacrifices and obey day after day," the expert says. "And if you only talk about non-compliance, then there's a lot of anger among those who comply," Porcar concludes.

The second wave revives some of the harshest and most distressing situations of the first, such as the fear of a healthcare collapse. In March, precisely to avoid hospitals not being able to cope, everyone understood relatively well the need for a lockdown, with a few exceptions. "It was very strict and sudden, but everyone was aware that it was done for the common good and that this was not the time to question it," explains Porcar.

For Liria, however, as the crisis drags on, the process of living with the virus and the restrictions it entails become more distressing and "risky behaviour" increases in order to recover a normality that is considered to have been taken away. "We return to a complex scenario and progressively lose our freedoms. To the anguish of living the epidemic is added the frustration of reliving the darkest side: we already know what a blow it is to our lives", Liria adds.

"People are more tired"

One of the most human traits and most affected by Covid is socialisation. Losing it again, partly or completely, generates a general feeling of sadness, either because of truncated plans or because of those that cannot even be projected. "We are angry, waiting to find out what will happen and how much longer we will have to make these huge efforts, but it is also true that people have great adaptability", Liria states.

The approach to the crisis, individually and collectively, cannot be the same as it was eight months ago. The country is being shaken once again, but the context is not the same, nor are people as ignorant as they were. The only thing that persists is the uncertainty of when the virus will be brought under control. While some channel it through scepticism and disobedience, others feed on emotions, such as fear and anxiety.

"The population is more tired and not everyone is experiencing the pandemic in the same way," explains Liria, who points out that those whose family economy is compromised, such as restaurant and bar workers, are more demanding of the authorities because "their survival is at stake. "In fact, the whole crisis is about survival: health, economic and personal survival," she says.