To many people, death is a distant thought that only comes to light when someone close to us or we recently met dies. “Oh my god! I saw him yesterday, he/she seemed just fine” is the common reaction. .” To many Malawians such an expression sounds very familiar. We might have even said it ourselves. It is moments like these that make us reflect on the inevitable end that will someday come to each and every one of us. However the effects of it, do not last long if the person who died, was a distant relative, friend or acquaintance. The reactions are not at all rare. This pattern has been described before in ancient Britain by a psychologist J.T Maccurdy in his book “The Structure of Morale”.
He described that during the war between Britain and Germany, when a blitz came there were different reactions from different groups of people. He divided the group into three categories. Those who died from the bomb blast. These were a group of people who could no longer cause a problem or spread rumours. The second group was the near misses. These the people who say the bomb explode, can see the mass effects and the people affected by the blast, but are not harmed or had minor injuries themselves. These are the one who are likely to panic and sometimes suffer from survivors’ guilt. The third category was a group of distant misses who were very far from the explosion and only heard the bomb explode. This is the group of people who can express little concern to the havoc the bombs impacted. They are likely to feel a sense of invincibility to the impact of the bombs. A feeling and sometimes a belief that such a tragic incident only happen to other people and not them. During the war such a reaction was dangerous and could have just as easily been categorized as suicidal.
The emotion that makes people cautious of their actions being taken is often fear and not courage. Not that courage can be described as an emotion. I am not even sure if fear can also be described as an emotion in itself. However, fear if presented on a curve, its influence on cautious actions people take, takes the shape of an invented “U”. This means the actions will be greater at the beginning but as time persists no matter how scary a situation might be, not much action can be done through fear. Fear will then eventually lose its grip to get people moving.
People are incapable of maintaining behavior change. During the pandemic, behavioral change interventions set up, needed to be implemented at a time when the greatest impact will be achieved. Failure of which, people get tired of new life style modifications and resume their old ways of living. However, the prevention measures for COVID-19 need not be overemphasized more. People are aware, they understand what has been said and how COVID-19 has caused havoc in other countries with more health care capacity than Malawi. Is our lax reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic a distant miss reaction in a time of war? What we see in the country reflects nothing of an ongoing pandemic that has taken half a million lives. What used to be a cautious way of living has now turned into a credence of sense of invincibility. It shouldn’t be. Nothing at the moment supports that we will never get the worst of COVID-19. While at the moment we can be “glad” that most of our cases are asymptomatic and have minor illnesses, we should still look ahead and plan for worst case scenarios. What strikes me as a ticking time bomb waiting to explode is the vulnerability of our current essential services that have been pardoned to continue serving Malawians with bare minimum precautions.
The patterns of mass reaction from the country as a whole can be best described by behavioural psychologists. We have not been spared from the worst effects of corona virus disease. We can only say this after a global declaration of the end of COVID-19, if ever such a scenario will happen, but it’s good to dream that it will.