“In Mexico, we say hi by kissing on the cheek. I remember saying, “Is this ever going to come back?” I used to go to a gym, and they closed the gym. But when I went back in mid-June, one of the people who used to go there came out and said hi with a kiss. I felt like, gasp, and then I realised there’s no danger. For me, I thought, “Maybe things are going back to normal.” We forgot pretty quickly. The next two weeks, it was over. We were going to parties again.” GRAHAM, 2020
We are at a stage in this global pandemic where we wonder if things will ever go back to normal again. In the UK, it’s been over six months since the country went into lockdown and as we move into winter and a second lockdown, our exhausted minds are grappling with the concept that we are not near the end of this yet. We found a sliver of hope during the summer months as case numbers dwindled, fuelling our capacity to hold on a little longer. Now we’re tired, and suffering from pandemic fatigue.
However, one can find solace in the fact that, although unprecedented in our lifetime, this is not the first epidemic or pandemic our world has experienced. As a species, we have survived this before: 1918 Spanish Flu (that most resembles our experience today), 1957 Asian Flu epidemic, 1981 AIDS pandemic, 2002 – 2004 SARS epidemic, 2009 – 2010 H1N1 Swine Flu, and 2014 – 2016 Ebola epidemic. However, when I looked into studies on each epidemic/pandemic, a recurring theme arose: fear. The fear of a pandemic; stirred by media, often times had a more severe impact on people than the disease itself.
Human beings are social animals. We were not designed to live in isolation and it is our innate response to care for one another, even in the face of fear. When something like a pandemic affects our world; suddenly the very people whom we are drawn to in order to maintain survival, become a perceived threat. Furthermore, as we can also be a source of infection, we become a perceived threat to others. All of a sudden we find ourselves experiencing internal confliction in our primitive nature: the desire to be physically close to one another and keep others and ourselves safe.
Events are a prime example catalyst of initiating human connection, providing opportunity to create and foster human social connection. Evidence shows attending mass gatherings can enhance wellbeing (Kearns et al, 2017) and that experiencing an event in the company of others antidotes the effect of isolation (Torres et al, 2018). The pandemic is having a serious impact on our health and wellbeing, and strategies like physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing help keep us safe. But could events have more of a positive impact than negative impact in this environment?