Lockdown social cohesion likely to fall as ‘acute’ phase ends, say scientists

Koi Tū director Sir Peter Gluckman ... "Already, we're seeing a rise in tension between conflicting economic and health interests. Image: Ian Telfer/RNZ

By RNZ News

The sense of national unity felt during the Covid-19 lockdown may disappear as social isolation and economic costs hit home, a report by leading social scientists warns.

Koi Tū: the Centre for Informed Futures from the University of Auckland has released a discussion paper outlining potential difficulties as restrictions lift.

It argues that social cohesion must be a key consideration for policymakers in a post-Covid-19 world.

READ MORE: Al Jazeera coronavirus live updates – Some countries begin easing lockdowns

Koi Tū director Sir Peter Gluckman said the level of community compliance and collective purpose shown during the fight against Covid-19 has rarely been seen outside wartime.

He warned this would likely begin to waver as the country moved out of the acute phase and the implications of the lockdown became apparent.

“Already, we’re seeing a rise in tension between conflicting economic and health interests. Sectors are starting to compete for attention. Some are in hurry to return to a pre-covid life; others see the opportunity for a major reset,” Sir Peter said.

“Many lives have been fundamentally changed, and for those people, the new ‘normal’ is full of huge uncertainty. That is where social cohesion will start to break down and the mental well-being of many will be further affected.”

Enhanced cohesion
As well as Sir Peter, the paper was written by Professor Paul Spoonley, Anne Bardsley, Tracey McIntosh, Rangimarie Hunia, Sarb Johal and Richie Poulton and informed by a larger group of mental health experts.

Professor Spoonley said enhanced cohesion was often seen in the initial response to major crises as communities pulled together against a common threat.

However, as the situation evolved over time, social cohesion could be lost and may even become worse than before the crisis.

“We cannot be complacent. Social cohesion is a major asset for New Zealand. A cohesive, safe and Covid-free country will enhance New Zealand’s global reputation and help project our place in the world – with positive flow on effects for our economy,” he said.

“But once lost, it becomes extremely difficult to restore, especially when there is both increased uncertainty and new forms of inequality.”

Sir Peter said that in the coming months and years, there would be many decisions made by government, individuals and businesses to recover from the crisis.

There would be a need to look for the advantages of the “new normal” that would emerge, he said.

No new NZ cases
There were no new cases of covid-19 confirmed in New Zealand today, but one probable case has been reclassified as confirmed.

Today’s news briefing. Video: RNZ News

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that meant New Zealand’s total of confirmed and probable cases remained the same at 1487. The total number of confirmed cases is 1137.

Dr Bloomfield said there had been no additional deaths, leaving New Zealand’s total at 20.

The last time there was 0 new cases was on March 16.

Yesterday 2473 tests were done. The total number of completed tests is 152,696.

There are seven cases in hospital, and none are intensive care.

The number of clusters in NZ remains at 16, three of them have now been closed as there have been no cases of community transmission in the past few days.

“Clearly these are encouraging figures today, but it is just one moment in time. The real test is later this week when we factor in the incubation period for the virus and the time it takes for people to display symptoms which is generally five to six days after exposure,” Dr Bloomfield said.

Covid update for 4 May
Covid-19 update graphic for May 4: RNZ
  • This article is republished by the Pacific Media Centre under a partnership agreement with RNZ.
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