Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Even with a vaccine, we need to adjust our mindset to playing the COVID-19 long game

Incredibly, a whole year has passed since the first emergence of COVID-19. What looked like a temporary inconvenience at first is turning into a permanent fixture that might forever change life as we knew it before 2020.

But how long will people continue to comply with the measures necessary to overcome the virus as complacency and fatigue set in?

As new outbreaks have cropped up in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland in recent weeks, governments have responded with stringent new measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including border closures, mask mandates, and temporary lockdowns.

In response, there has been some pushback. In Sydney, anti-mask protests are making a comeback, while hundreds partied on Bronte Beach in violation of distancing regulations. Others have absconded from quarantine hotels and airports.

Are these isolated cases, or signs of an increasingly exhausted public growing less tolerant of restrictions with the knowledge of vaccines on the way?

And could this kind of complacency could cost us the war against the virus?

The absence of medical science would surely lose us the war against COVID-19. But psychology is no doubt equally important if we’re going to win it.

What ultimately stops a highly infectious disease is people’s compliance with the measures that governments put in place. This is why self-isolation, social distancing, curfews, good hygiene, and face masks have become ingrained in our daily lives over the past year.

One might think these hard-learned behaviors will become habits that stick no matter how long the pandemic continues. But behavioral science warns us that dashed hopes, uncertainty, changing goalposts and broken credibility can play a major role in how long people strictly follow rules and maintain good habits.

The sacrifices that governments are continuing to ask people to make require self-control. Willpower has been likened to a mental muscle that can tire. There is some evidence that exercising self-control takes so much mental effort, it can eventually deplete people’s willpower.

Evidence also shows that as willpower wanes, people are more likely to make decisions that can pose risks to themselves and harm others.

Participants in one study, for instance, were asked to perform a tedious task. For some of these participants, the task was also designed to require more concentration. These participants later registered a higher willingness to take risks.

In another study, a tedious and complex task made participants more likely to behave dishonestly. Depleted willpower undermined their ability to tell right from wrong.

These controversial results from experimental situations may not be directly applicable to today’s circumstances—they may not tell us anything about people’s long-term determination to fight the virus.

However, they do show us how important psychology is when assessing people’s abilities to comply with rules that go against their natural instincts and inclinations.

Performing a task, like following complex COVID rules and regulations, also depends on clear and achievable objectives. Vague or shifting goalposts and a lack of feedback on people’s progress toward a specific goal tend to undermine people’s motivation.

Shifting goalposts and mixed messages have been a consistent feature of governmental responses to COVID-19—not just in Australia, but everywhere.

This is partly related to our evolving understanding of the virus and the most effective ways to stem transmissions. For instance, there has been much debate about the effectiveness of face masks, which has sown acrimony and confusion.

Governments have also made plenty of mistakes, such as providing incorrect COVID exposure sites to the public or mistranslated or out-of-date information to migrant communities.

All of this has can affect compliance. From a psychological standpoint, consistency plays an important role when it comes to people’s trust in authority and their willingness to follow rules, particularly when it comes to the type of long-term response required in a pandemic.

What people are willing to sacrifice also depends on their expectations. This is why optimism can be such a powerful tool to help people get through hard times. But if optimistic messages from governments begin to sound like false hope, this can have the opposite effect. Dejection can cause many to abandon good habits.

Anyone who took courage from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s goal of making Australia “whole again by Christmas,” for example, may feel disheartened now that borders are once more closed, just a week into the new year. This could, in turn, sap people’s motivations to continue to behave in the right way

As we enter a new year with no end in sight to the pandemic, many will surely wonder what the endgame is. Yes, vaccines will hopefully bring a return to normal life, but this may take considerable time. We may be living with COVID restrictions longer than we think.

What is clear is that government messaging continues to matter greatly. People need to be informed of how we are traveling in the fight against the virus and how long the journey will take.

But this kind of messaging must be done with extreme care. Governments face the unenviable task of communicating enough positivity to motivate people to continue the fight without eventually losing credibility when unexpected bad news or delays occur.

With many more months of lockdowns, mask mandates, and quarantining in our futures, we all need to manage our expectations appropriately, too. We need to remember the long game is what matters. — Robert Hoffmann, Swee-Hoon Chuah/The Conversation

Robert Hoffmann is a Professor of Economics and Chair of Behavioral Business Lab at RMIT University.

Swee-Hoon Chuah is a Professor of Economics at the University of Tasmania.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed and entertained, for free.
Your information is secure and your privacy is protected. By opting in you agree to receive emails from us. Remember that you can opt-out any time, we hate spam too!



LIMA — Dina Boluarte became Peru’s first female president on Wednesday amid a political maelstrom when her predecessor and former boss Pedro Castillo was...


TOKYO — Japan’s economy, the world’s third-largest, shrank less than initially estimated in the third quarter, bolstering a view that it is slowly recovering...


WASHINGTON — US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler said that companies that help facilitate transactions in the cryptocurrency market should come...


Twitter owner and Tesla boss Elon Musk briefly lost his title as the world’s richest person on Wednesday, according to Forbes, following a steep...


BERLIN — The founder of Russia’s only LGBTQ+ museum said he was forced to close its doors on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin signed...


Philippine lawmakers are looking to tap central bank profits to seed a proposed sovereign wealth fund, after an earlier plan to use pension funds...

You May Also Like


The minute that any question pops into your head, you can simply ask Google. No longer do we have to pour over books and...


Having a good Instagram marketing agency to back up your Instagram account is an absolute must going into the new year. With competition stronger...


Browsing history makes referring to sites and pages you’ve visited in the past seamless. It’ll help you recall what page you checked out on...


Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the global population. Therefore, it is a problem that many people suffer or have suffered throughout...

Disclaimer:, its managers, its employees, and assigns (collectively "The Company") do not make any guarantee or warranty about what is advertised above. Information provided by this website is for research purposes only and should not be considered as personalized financial advice. The Company is not affiliated with, nor does it receive compensation from, any specific security. The Company is not registered or licensed by any governing body in any jurisdiction to give investing advice or provide investment recommendation. Any investments recommended here should be taken into consideration only after consulting with your investment advisor and after reviewing the prospectus or financial statements of the company.

Copyright © 2021 SmartRetirementReport. All Rights Reserved.