The motivation to obey the strict rules of the current confinement is likely to go down the longer the situation lasts, according to a study carried out by the university of Ghent.
The measures introduced in mid-March – most retail stores closed, the population told to remain at home unless absolutely necessary, teleworking wherever possible, bars and restaurants closed – have had the intended effect, as shown by the latest figures on hospitalisations.
However, the study suggests, the longer those protective measures are maintained, the less effective they are likely to be. People make their major effort at the start. But as time goes on, and the vast majority of the population remains unaffected by the virus, the preventive effect begins to be felt less and less.
As time goes on, people begin to feel the measures have been successful, and the time has come to relax.
“The motivation to respect the measures diminishes gradually, among the young and not so young,” said professor in developmental psychology Maarten Vansteenkiste. “The cause is probably the duration of the confinement. Our attention tends to relax after about four weeks.”
Another contributing factor is the seeming endlessness of the situation. The government has set a limit of 19 April, with the possibility of extending that deadline until 3 May, and there are few people who believe that later deadline will not be adopted.
The situation remains unclear, the study points out.
When will the schools resume, or the colleges and universities? When will people be able to go back to work as usual? The government of Sophie Wilmès, which was given special powers to deal with the situation, has made a point of not setting a time limit on the powers it has adopted.
Sooner or later, and in practice the issue will arise sooner, the government will be required to set a deadline for when its special powers expire.
Faced with this developing situation, the government’s crisis team has launched a new campaign to revive what may be the flagging determination of the public to respect the social distancing measures.
“If we want to make the best of the summer in a month or two, we have to hold fast now,” said Benoit Ramacker of the crisis team at the daily press briefing.
“We have to stay together. Stay at home and keep on taking care of each other,” the message goes.