Are the kids alright? Social isolation can take a toll, but play can help


Pasi Sahlberg, UNSW and Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Many parents are worried the disruptions of COVID lockdowns and school closures may affect their children’s mental health and development.

In the Royal Children’s Hospital’s National Child Health Poll in June 2020, more than one-third of parents reported the pandemic has had negative consequences on their children’s mental health. Almost half of parents said the pandemic had also been harmful to their own mental health.

Many parents spent at least some months this year supporting their children to learn from home (and still are, in Victoria). This already substantial challenge was complicated by children not being able to go out and play with other children. In Victoria, such restrictions are still in place, although some have been relaxed and playgrounds are open.

Still, it’s fair to say that across the country, some children are not socially engaging with their peers in the same way they did before. This is not only detrimental to children’s learning but also their physical and mental health. It is understandable if parents are worried.

What social isolation means for kids

In June 2020, in the context of COVID-19, a group of researchers in the UK reviewed 80 studies to find how social isolation and loneliness could impact the mental health of previously healthy children. They found social isolation increased the risk of depression and possibly anxiety, and these effects could last several years.

Read more:
How to help young children regulate their emotions and behaviours during the pandemic

The review also concluded loneliness puts children’s well-being at risk of these things long after the social isolation period is over.

The impact of social isolation may be particularly significant for children with special educational needs, when support provided at school to them is interrupted.

Other children – perhaps those living in medium and high-density housing with limited access to outdoor play space – may also be particularly vulnerable to the effects of social isolation.

Father and son racing a toy train on a track.
Playing with your kids can help them feel less lonely.

Some parents with only one child have also voiced concerns about loneliness.

It is difficult to substitute what real human interaction with peers means to a child. Active engagement in creative play alone or physical activity with parents can be helpful for children who miss the company of their friends.

The power of play

What could possibly fix this situation? The answer is: help children play.

The benefits of regular play are many and they are well documented in research. Paediatricians say play improves children’s language skills, early maths knowledge, peer relations, social and physical development and learning how to get new skills.

When children can’t play for any reason, anxiety and toxic stress can harm the healthy development of social behaviours.

Read more:
Let them play! Kids need freedom from play restrictions to develop

During the pandemic, play can be an effective tonic for stress and can encourage the development of positive behaviours.

When children play together, play effects become even more powerful. Experts say social play can help children develop skills in cooperation, communication, negotiation, conflict resolution and empathy.

In social play, children can rehearse and role play real-world situations safely. Through play, they make sense of the world and process change. Parents playing with their children help children play better with their peers.

Group of kids playing
When children play together, the benefits of normal play are enhanced.

Now is the time to stress the importance of play. A survey done by the Gonski Institute in 2019 showed four out of five Australians believe today’s children are under pressure to grow up too quickly. More than 70% think the lifelong benefits children gained from play, such as creativity and empathy, are mostly ignored today.

Research from previous pandemics shows we need well-planned and coordinated solutions to potentially long-term emotional issues. We can embrace the role of play to mitigate the losses children have experienced while living through a pandemic.

What can parents do?

Children need both guided indoor play and free play ourdoors. Playing with family members at home, or with friends at school, are good for social play.

Digital devices can provide children a way to play together with their friends when they can’t meet with them. But the benefits of play are more long-lasting through social play in person.

Parks, green spaces and quiet streets are suitable for outdoor play. Natural environments both soothe and stimulate children, while connecting them to their environment and community. So here are four things you can do to encourage play.

1. Make time for play

The most important thing you can do is to make time every day for your children to play. Take play time seriously and show your children you value it for the benefit of their well-being, health and learning.

2. Set clear guidelines to technology use at home

It is important to talk with your children about safe and responsible use of digital media and technology. This may require agreeing to put some limits to the use of screens at home, and encourage children to actively engage with friends by playing interactive games when using digital devices.

Read more:
Child’s play in the time of COVID: screen games are still ‘real’ play

3. Go out whenever possible

A recent review of nearly 200 studies found “green time” — time in parks, nature reserves and woods — appeared to be associated with favourable psychological outcomes, while high levels of screen time appeared to be associated with unfavourable psychological outcomes.

Parks and playgrounds are open now in Victoria, while in other states they have been for some time.

So find fun outdoor exploratory activities for your children, and where possible bring other kids along.

4. Be a role model of all of the above

Children often mimic their parents. The best way to ensure children grow up healthy and happy is to be a role model to them. More play, and enough quality time outdoors with children is good for your own health and happiness, too.

For more see the Raising Children Network and the Gonski Institute.The Conversation

Pasi Sahlberg, Professor of Education Policy, UNSW and Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVIDSafe tracking app reviewed: the government delivers on data security, but other issues remain

<Mahmoud Elkhodr, CQUniversity Australia

About 1.13 million people had downloaded the federal government’s COVIDSafe app by 6am today, just 12 hours after its release last night, said Health Minister Greg Hunt. The government is hoping at least 40% of the population will make use of the app, designed to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease.

Previously dubbed TraceTogether – in line with a similar app rolled out in Singapore – the coronavirus contact tracing app has been an ongoing cause of contention among the public. Many people have voiced concerns of an erosion of privacy, and potential misuse of citizen data by the government.

But how does COVIDSafe work? And to what extent has the app addressed our privacy concerns?

Read more:
Coronavirus contact-tracing apps: most of us won’t cooperate unless everyone does

Getting started

The app’s landing page outlines its purpose: to help Australian health authorities trace and prevent COVID-19’s spread by contacting people who may have been in proximity (to a distance of about 1.5 metres) with a confirmed case, for 15 minutes or more.

The second screen explains how Bluetooth technology is used to record users’ contact with other app users. This screen says collected data is encrypted and can’t be accessed by other apps or users without a decryption mechanism. It also says the data is stored locally on users’ phones and isn’t sent to the government (remote server storage).

These screens that show up upon app installation explain the app’s functions and guide users through registration.

COVIDSafe requires certain permissions to run.

In subsequent screens, the app links to its privacy policy, seeks user consent to retrieve registration details, and lets users register by entering their name, age range, postcode and mobile number.

This is followed by a declaration page where the user must give consent to enable Bluetooth, “location permissions” and “battery optimiser”.

In regards to enabling location permissions, it’s important to note this isn’t the same as turning on location services. Location permissions must be enabled for COVIDSafe to access Bluetooth on Android and Apple devices. And access to your phone’s battery optimiser is required keep the app running in the background.

Once the user is registered, a notification should confirm the app is up and running.

Users will have to manually grant some permissions.

Importantly, COVIDSafe doesn’t have an option for users to exit or “log-off”.

Currently, the only way to stop the app is to uninstall it, or turn off Bluetooth. The app’s reliance on prolonged Bluetooth usage also has users worried it might quickly drain their phone batteries.

Preliminary tests

Upon preliminary testing of the app, it seems the federal government has delivered on its promises surrounding data security.

Tests run for one hour showed the app didn’t transmit data to any external or remote server, and the only external communication made was a “handshake” to a remote server. This is simply a way of establishing a secure communication.

Additional tests should be carried out on this front.

This screenshot shows test results run via the Wireshark software to determine whether data from COVIDSafe was being transmitted to external servers.

Issues for iPhone users

According to reports, if COVIDSafe is being used on an iPhone in low-power mode, this may impact the app’s ability to track contacts.

Also, iPhone users must have the app open (in the foreground) for Bluetooth functionality to work. The federal government plans to fix this hitch “in a few weeks”, according to The Guardian.

Read more:
The coronavirus contact tracing app won’t log your location, but it will reveal who you hang out with

This complication may be because Apple’s operating system generally doesn’t allow apps to run Bluetooth-related tasks, or perform Bluetooth-related events unless running in the foreground.

Source code

Source code” is the term used to describe the set of instructions written during the development of a program. These instructions are understandable to other programmers.

In a privacy impact assessment response from the Department of Health, the federal government said it would make COVIDSafe’s source code publicly available, “subject to consultation with” the Australian Cyber Security Centre. It’s unclear exactly when or how much of the source code will be released.

Making the app’s source code publicly available, or making it “open source”, would allow experts to examine the code to evaluate security risks (and potentially help fix them). For example, experts could determine whether the app collects any personal user information without user consent. This would ensure COVIDSafe’s transparency and enable auditing of the app.

Releasing the source code isn’t only important for transparency, but also for understanding the app’s functionality.

Some COVIDSafe users reported the app wouldn’t accept their mobile number until they turned off wifi and used their mobile network (4G) instead. Until the app is made open source, it’s difficult to say exactly why this happens.

Read more:
Explainer: what is contact tracing and how does it help limit the coronavirus spread?

Civic duty

Overall, it seems COVIDSafe is a promising start to the national effort to ease lockdown restrictions, a luxury already afforded to some states including Queensland.

Questions have been raised around whether the app will later be made compulsory to download, to reach the 40% uptake target. But current growth in download numbers suggests such enforcement may not be necessary as more people rise up to their “civic duty”.

That said, only time will reveal the extent to which Australians embrace this new contact tracing technology. The Conversation

Mahmoud Elkhodr, Lecturer in Information and Communication Technologies, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to manage your blood pressure in isolation


James Sharman, University of Tasmania; Mark Nelson, University of Tasmania, and Markus Schlaich, University of Western Australia

Maintaining healthy blood pressure is important during (and after) the coronavirus pandemic.

With about one in three Australian adults having high blood pressure, many people will be needing to monitor their own blood pressure in isolation.

So it’s a great time to make sure you’re accurately measuring and optimally managing your blood pressure at home.

Read more:
Health Check: what do my blood pressure numbers mean?

When it comes to blood pressure, home really is better

Blood pressure measurements taken at home are a better indication of your true blood pressure. They’re also a better indication of your risk of heart attack and stroke than measurements doctors take in their surgeries or in hospital.

Blood pressure readings by doctors are generally even higher than those measured by other health professionals, such as nurses.

Read more:
Why we should measure our own blood pressure

This is due to the “white coat” effect, where a doctor’s presence can lead to your blood pressure (and heart rate) rising, something we’ve known about since the 1980s.

So today’s guidelines recommend doctors confirm someone has high blood pressure using methods outside the clinic.

The ideal method while in isolation is to measure your blood pressure using your own device.

How do I measure my blood pressure at home?

Your blood pressure can vary depending on whether you’re talking, exercising or under stress, or if there is a change in the temperature. It can also vary depending on your posture, whether you’ve just eaten, taken medication, drunk a coffee or smoked.

So it’s important to measure your blood pressure at home the correct way each time, otherwise your readings might be incorrect or misleading:

  • use a validated device, one that has been rigorously tested for accuracy. Most devices available in Australia have not been validated. You can check if yours is here.
    Use an upper arm device (not a wrist cuff or one you wear on a wristband) with a correct cuff size (within the range indicated on the cuff). If you don’t want to buy a device, you can hire or borrow one from some pharmacies and medical clinics

  • take measures at around the same time, morning and evening, over seven days (five day minimum). Measure before taking medication, food or exercise, and as advised by your doctor (for instance, before visiting the doctor or after a medication change)

  • don’t smoke or drink caffeine 30 minutes before measuring, and don’t measure if you’re uncomfortable, stressed or in pain

  • sit quietly for five minutes before measuring, without talking or distractions from other people or television

  • sit correctly, with feet flat on the floor, legs uncrossed, upper arm bare, arm supported with cuff at heart level, and back supported.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND
  • take two measures, one minute apart

  • record each measure in a paper diary or electronic spreadsheet

  • provide your doctor with your readings, by email or via telehealth, such as videocalling.

Read more:
What can you use a telehealth consult for and when should you physically visit your GP?

What else can I do to manage my blood pressure in lockdown?

While high blood pressure is mainly caused by unhealthy environments, lifestyles and behaviours, you can modify some of these at home to lower your blood pressure, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.

About 30% of high blood pressure relates to eating too much salt, which can be hidden in many foods.

A balanced diet low in salt, high in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, as well as healthy proteins, can help control blood pressure and improve your overall heart health.

Being at home means you can prepare food from the basic ingredients, avoiding the high salt, fats and sugars found in processed foods.

Read more:
Seven things to eat or avoid to lower your blood pressure

Maintaining a healthy weight and having an active life with regular physical activity and decreased sitting time is good for your blood pressure and overall health.

Leaving the house for exercise is one of the few excuses you have available to you during lockdown.

Read more:
For older people and those with chronic health conditions, staying active at home is extra important – here’s how

People who regularly walk for as little as 15 minutes a day are more likely to live longer than people who are inactive. That’s irrespective of age, sex or risk of heart disease.

Limiting how much alcohol you drink and quitting smoking are also important.

Read more:
Worried about your drinking during lockdown? These 8 signs might indicate a problem

Still check in with your doctor

If your doctor starts you on medication to lower your blood pressure, this will lower your risk of a heart attack and stroke. So it’s important to stick with your treatment while in isolation, unless instructed to stop.

Don’t avoid a trip to your GP, or a telehealth consultation, should your blood pressure remain high.

Read more:
Even in a pandemic, continue with routine health care and don’t ignore a medical emergency

The Conversation

James Sharman, Professor of Medical Research and Deputy Director, Menzies Institute for Medical Research., University of Tasmania; Mark Nelson, Head, Discipline of General Practice, University of Tasmania, and Markus Schlaich, Dobney Chair in Clinical Research and Winthrop Professor, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone – we must reclaim public space lost to the coronavirus crisis

At a deserted Federation Square in Melbourne, the big screen broadcasts this message: ‘If you can see this, what are you doing? Go home.’
Cassie Zervos/Twitter

Kurt Iveson, University of Sydney

Authorities have imposed significant restrictions on the size, purpose and location of gatherings in public space to slow the transmission of COVID-19. The massive impacts of these escalating restrictions over the past two months show us just how significant public spaces are for the life of our cities. A longer-term concern is the risk that living with these measures might normalise restrictions on, and surveillance of, our access to public space and one another.

Right now, public health is the priority. But access to public spaces was already significantly and unjustly restricted for many people before the coronavirus pandemic. Current restrictions could both intensify existing inequalities in access and reinforce trends towards “locking down” public space.

Read more:
Public spaces bind cities together. What happens when coronavirus forces us apart?

We must ensure these restrictions do not become permanent. And once the crisis is over, we also should act on existing inequitable restrictions.

Restrictions have inequitable impacts

Unless public health interventions are enacted with an awareness of their profoundly uneven consequences, we may well “flatten the curve” in ways that add to existing inequalities and injustices.

Research suggests restrictions on public space have greater impacts on people who have less access to private space. People without stable homes, and those with restricted access to domestic space, tend to live more of their lives in public. Public space restrictions have far greater consequences for these people.

We can see this relationship very clearly: the restrictions are paired with instructions to stay at home. This applies to everyone. But, while it’s inconvenient for some, it’s impossible for others.

It’s certainly the case for the homeless. It will also be true of others. For instance, students may be living in crowded conditions in shared, family or informal accommodation, with no access to quiet private space for study.

This is why researchers and activists are demanding restrictions on public space be accompanied by provisions to make such people’s lives less precarious. Suggested measures include a moratorium on evictions and safe and free accommodation for rough sleepers.

Read more:
Homelessness and overcrowding expose us all to coronavirus. Here’s what we can do to stop the spread

Research also shows us restrictions on public gatherings and public space were a feature of everyday urban life for many people well before physical distancing came in.

Young people of colour who gather in small groups in public spaces frequently report being stopped, searched and moved on by police and security guards. People on low incomes were already excluded from commercial public spaces like cafes and shopping malls. People asking for spare change or leafleting passers-by were barred from quasi-public spaces that are subject to special restrictions. People who cannot climb stairs were unable to use basic public infrastructure, like train stations, that lacks lift or ramp access. The list goes on.

These pre-existing restrictions were the product of exclusion and injustice. We should not have tolerated this before the crisis and it demands our renewed attention after the crisis.

We also know authorities responsible for regulating public space, including police, tend to enforce rules and restrictions selectively. In New South Wales and Victoria, police chiefs have been explicit that police will use their discretion in enforcing current restrictions.

The problem is this use of discretion can be informed by stereotype and prejudice. For communities who already felt unfairly targeted by police, statements about the use of discretion will be far from reassuring.

Read more:
How city squares can be public places of protest or centres of state control

‘Temporary’ really must be temporary

We must guard against a common tendency for temporary measures to become more permanent. Some of the extraordinary powers given to police to break up gatherings and fine people who fail to observe restrictions have been time-limited. But having been used once for a particular problem, the risk is such powers might be enacted more often in future.

We have seen this happen with closures of public space for commercial events. Each closure is justified as being only temporary, but such closures have become increasingly common. The cumulative effect is a creeping commercialisation of public space.

One can also see how “temporary” experiments with digital surveillance to slow contagion could become permanent. Tech corporations are offering analyses of mobile phone and other data to profile public activity and to trace the movements and contacts of individuals who have contracted the coronavirus.

It’s the latest step in the datafication of urban everyday life. This process erodes privacy and grants more and more power to corporations and governments. It is easy to see how “contact tracing” could also be applied to protesters or stigmatised minorities.

Read more:
Darwin’s ‘smart city’ project is about surveillance and control

Normalisation of restrictions must be resisted

Coronavirus-related restrictions are obvious to us because they have been imposed so rapidly. However, we should reflect on how other restrictions have become normalised precisely because they happened gradually, making them less visible and contested.

For example, over the past decade we have seen a creeping “gating” of a public spaces like parks and school ovals. Free access to those spaces has been greatly reduced when they are not in use for organised education or sports.

Read more:
Pushing casual sport to the margins threatens cities’ social cohesion

Interestingly, as urban authorities try to provide large populations with access to public spaces in which they can maintain recommended physical distance, some existing restrictions are being rethought. Cities are closing streets to cars to give pedestrians more space rather than having to crowd onto footpaths. It will be interesting to see if such measures persist once physical-distancing restrictions are lifted.

Let’s hope our experience of the inconvenience and frustration of restricted access to public space will translate into a more widely shared determination not only to end these restrictions when the health crisis is over, but also to act on the unjust exclusions and restrictions that were already a feature of urban life.

As with so many other aspects of our society, it is not enough simply to go back to how things were before. We must ensure our public spaces are not unjustly restricted when the next crisis comes along.The Conversation

Kurt Iveson, Associate Professor of Urban Geography and Research Lead, Sydney Policy Lab, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus shutdowns: what makes hairdressing ‘essential’? Even the hairdressers want to close

Hannah McCann, University of Melbourne

As part of sweeping social-distancing measures, on March 24 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced nail salons, tanning, waxing and most other beauty services would be closed – but hair salons could remain open with a 30-minute per client time restriction.

There was much criticism this limit was both unfeasible and highly gendered, and it was reversed. Salons can operate if they maintain one person per four square metres.

While many hairdressing businesses have voluntarily closed their doors, others remain open. The issue has become a flashpoint in Australia for debate about what is an “essential” service.

Touch and talk

My previous research on the emotional aspects of salon work has shown hairdressers and beauty workers act like makeshift counsellors for many clients.

The salon is not just about makeovers: it is a space of touch and talk. For some, the salon might be one of the only places they encounter regular verbal and physical contact. Increasingly, salon workers are being recognised as an important channel between members of the community and services such as family violence shelters.

Read more:
More than skin deep, beauty salons are places of sharing and caring

In ordinary circumstances, hair and beauty services might be considered essential due to the social and community welfare aspects of the job. However, in the context of a pandemic the close proximity required for hairdressing is a problem.

Fearing for the well-being of those in the industry, the Australian Hairdressing Council has petitioned the government for hairdressers and barbers to be shut down. The initial mixed messages about rules for salons appear to have created confusion for salons and customers alike. This includes uncertainty about what subsidies are available for salons that have already closed voluntarily.

It is not yet clear why the government continues to deem hair services “essential”. Given the original 30-minute ruling, it is unlikely the decision is based on concern for the maintenance of the social work aspects of hairdressing.

The 67,000 people employed as hairdressers may be a more significant factor in the decision at a time when so many others have lost their jobs. Of course, the shutdown has already affected the 36,100 beauty therapists employed across Australia, but there may be an impression much beauty work (such as maintaining nails and body hair) can be done at home.

There may also be a gendered element to this: these beauty services are more frequented by women and therefore may be more culturally coded as “inessential” or frivolous.

It seems likely we would follow the lead of other countries that have already closed hair salons if further physical distancing measures are required.

Digital salons

In times of severe economic downturn, hair and beauty services remain popular.

Even during the Great Depression people continued to pay for salon visits, forgoing other essentials.

However, the length of time between salon visits appears to expand in times of downturn. Dubbed the “haircut index”, consumer confidence is thought to be signalled by more frequent trips. On the flip side, some argue consumers tend to buy more small luxury beauty items such as lipstick during recession (the so-called “lipstick index”).

Even in difficult economic periods, people still care about keeping up appearances.

In the context of COVID-19, however, social distancing complicates the situation for the beauty industry.

With many shopfronts closed already, businesses have shifted to online services, finding creative ways to maintain connections with existing clients.

Many salons have begun selling “lockdown” product packs online, producing short “home maintenance” videos, and some are even offering one-on-one live digital consultations.

Then there are some who are simply taking matters into their own hands.

Google Trends reveal an exponential increase in searches for “how to cut your own hair” since March 8. Buzzcuts are also gaining popularity as a no-fuss way to maintain short hair at home. People appear to be using the lack of salon guidance as an opportunity to get inventive with their appearance, or to try things at home they might be too scared to ask for from a professional.

Limited social contact and the availability of online filters mean people might feel they can get more creative with their style. #hairtutorials continues to trend on TikTok. #QuarantineHair is being used on Twitter to document some of the highs and lows people are having experimenting with their looks in lockdown.

Zoom beauty

While it may seem ludicrous to some that people still care about makeup and hair products during a public health crisis, there are multiple reasons why this may be the case. Though sociality is reduced, many entrenched beauty norms will persist. People may feel the need to keep up some sense of appearance while still seeing colleagues, clients and friends on screen.

There is also an important ritual element to maintaining one’s appearance. In Western culture, one’s outer presentation is seen as intimately connected to one’s sense of identity and well-being. Maintaining a daily routine, including skin care, putting on makeup and styling one’s hair, might give some people a sense they are looking after themselves – especially when other things around them are much harder to control.

At the very least, sharing mishaps and humorous experiences with self-styling in this digital beauty world offers people a new way to gain a sense of social connection.The Conversation

Hannah McCann, Lecturer in Cultural Studies, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The psychology of lockdown suggests sticking to rules gets harder the longer it continues


Dougal Sutherland, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to live under strict lockdown conditions, but the psychology of human behaviour predicts they will find it harder to stick to the rules the longer the situation continues.

New Zealand has now reached a midway point of a comprehensive four-week lockdown and there have already been some rule breakers. Most prominent among them was the country’s health minister, David Clark, who almost lost his job this week for flouting lockdown rules by going mountain biking and driving his family 20km to a beach.

He won’t be the last to break the rules. During a pandemic, fear is one of the central emotional responses and up to this point, most people have complied with lockdown conditions out of fear of becoming infected. But as time passes, people’s resolution may begin to fray.

Psychology of a pandemic

A group of more than 40 psychologists are currently reviewing research relevant to people’s behaviour during a pandemic to advance the fight against COVID-19.

The psychological factors that motivate us to stay in our bubble are a mix of individual, group and societal considerations.

Read more:
Coronavirus and you: how your personality affects how you cope and what you can do about it

At a very basic level, human behaviour is governed by reward principles.

If what we do is followed by a perceived reward, we’re more likely to keep doing it. Not getting sick is a reward, but it may not be perceived as such for much longer as most of us weren’t sick in the first place.

This lack of reward reinforcement could be intensified by an optimism bias – “It won’t happen to me” – which may become stronger than our anxiety as time passes and the perceived threat reduces.

Outside of our individual psychology, broader social factors come into play. In times of uncertainty we look to others to guide our own behaviour as they set our social norms.

Read more:
Facing the coronavirus crisis together could lead to positive psychological growth

Often, there is a degree of confusion about guidelines on what people are allowed to do, for example when exercising during lockdown. Seeing others out surfing, mountain biking and picnicking in a park can lead to a mindset of “if they’re doing it, why can’t I?”

To counter this, the government should continue to appeal to our sense of shared identity and highlight examples of punishment for rule breakers. But an over-emphasis on punishment risks people sticking to rules merely for social approval, which means they may conform in public but not in private. Being punished can also build resentment and may lead people to seeking out loopholes in the rules.

Group behaviour

In order to last the distance at the highest level of lockdown, people need to cooperate as a group. If everyone complies, we’ll all be OK.

The reverse was evident in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic with the panic-induced buying of toilet paper, face masks and other “essentials”. Here we saw decision making based on emotion and the government attempting to counter it with fact-based information.

Read more:
Psychology can explain why coronavirus drives us to panic buy. It also provides tips on how to stop

There is evidence that in times of major crises groups may prioritise their local interests, such as keeping your family, neighbourhood or wider community safe. An example of such local activity in New Zealand is the initiative of some iwi (tribal groups) to set up road blocks around their communities to control access by people who are not local residents.

But this has the potential to spill over into vigilantism if local protection interests combine with fear. It can prioritise the interests of a few over the greater good.

Cultural factors

Cultural and political psychology also has an impact on our behaviour during lockdown. Broadly speaking, different cultures can be categorised as “tight” or “loose”.

Tight cultures (China, Singapore) tend to be more rule bound and less open but are also associated with more order and self-regulation. In contrast, looser cultures (UK, USA) place more emphasis on individual freedoms and rights, and are correspondingly slow to self-regulate in the face of government requirements.

Australia appears to fall towards the looser end of the spectrum while New Zealanders sits somewhere in the middle. The challenge will be how we respond as our society continues to “tighten” with strict rules while boredom and annoyance sets in.

Political polarisation, which has increased markedly in recent years, may be exacerbated by being physically distant from others. There is a danger that as we stay in our bubbles, both physical and virtual, we fall into “echo chambers” wherein we only hear similar voices and opinions to our own.

If this chamber becomes filled with resentment at ongoing restraints on our freedom, it can break down our motivation to stay home. But polarisation can be overcome by helping people identify with a bigger cause – and this was often invoked during times of war.

New Zealanders will eventually emerge from the level 4 lockdown, but it may be into a brave new world. It’s hard to know what to expect as alerts are relaxed. People will need clear guidelines at each stage and help to adjust to a new normal.The Conversation

Dougal Sutherland, Clinical Psychologist, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Personalities that thrive in isolation and what we can all learn from time alone

Anthony Tran/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Luke Smillie, University of Melbourne and Nick Haslam, University of Melbourne

The coronavirus pandemic has caused tens of thousands of deaths around the world and pushed major economies into a tailspin. Beyond those impacts, almost all of us will face psychological challenges – trying to maintain a responsible social distancing regimen without sliding into psychological isolation and loneliness.

At least we’re all in the same boat, and misery loves company, right?

Actually, we’re not all in the same boat. Generalisations about how the COVID-19 lockdown will affect us overlook the fact people have different personalities. We’re all going to respond in different ways to our changing situation.

Extraverts and introverts

Take Bob, for example. After two days working from home Bob couldn’t wait to try a social drinking session over Zoom. But drinking a beer in front of his laptop just wasn’t the same. He’s wondering how he’ll cope in the coming weeks and months, cooped up inside and away from his friends.

He wonders this on a call to his sister, Jan: “I might not get coronavirus but I’m going to get cabin fever!”

Jan doesn’t understand Bob’s agitation or why he’s so worried about staying at home. If Jan is feeling bad about anything, it is the guilt of realising she might actually be enjoying the apocalypse – quiet evenings to herself, far from the madding crowd. Bliss!

Jan and Bob are archetypes of people we all know well. Bob represents the classic extravert. He’s talkative, gregarious and highly social. Jan is an introvert. She enjoys solitude and finds rowdy Bob a bit too much.

Different people, different responses

Differences in extraversion-introversion emerge in early life and are relatively stable over the lifespan. They influence which environments we seek out and how we respond to those environments.

In a recent study, extraverts and introverts were asked to spend a week engaging in higher levels of extravert-typical behaviour (being talkative, sociable, etc). Extraverts reaped several benefits including enhanced mood and feelings of authenticity. Conversely, introverts experienced no benefits, and reported feeling tired and irritable.

The social distancing rules to which we’re all trying to adhere are like a mirror image of this intervention. Now it’s the extraverts who are acting out of character, and who will likely experience decreased well-being in the coming weeks and months. Introverts, on the other hand, have been training for this moment their whole lives.

Why might introverts find isolation easier to deal with than extraverts? Most obviously, they tend to be less motivated to seek out social engagement. Introverts also tend to feel less need to experience pleasure and excitement. This may make them less prone to the boredom that will afflict many of us as social distancing drags on.

Looking deeper

Other aspects of our personalities may also shape our coping during isolation. Consider the remaining four traits in the Big Five personality model:

People high in conscientiousness, who are more organised, less distractable and also more adaptable, will find it easier to set up and stick to a structured daily schedule, as many experts recommend.

People high in agreeableness, who tend to be polite, compassionate and cooperative, will be better equipped to negotiate life in the pockets of family members or housemates.

People high in openness to experience, who tend to be curious and imaginative, will likely become absorbed in books, music and creative solutions to the humdrum of lockdown.

In contrast, people high in neuroticism, who are more susceptible to stress and negative emotions than their more stable peers, will be most at risk for anxiety and depression during these challenging times.

Of course, these are all generalisations. Introverts are not immune to loneliness, and those with more vulnerable personalities can thrive with the right resources and social support.

Life in a capsule

For some, living under lockdown might feel like working on a space station or Antarctic research facility. What lessons can we draw from personality research in these extreme environments?

That research shows people who are emotionally stable, self-reliant and autonomous, goal-oriented, friendly, patient and open tend to cope better in conditions of extreme isolation. In particular, it has been observed that “‘sociable [read agreeable] introverts’ – who enjoy, but do not need, social interaction – seem optimally suited for capsule living”.

To manage as best we can in our earthbound and non-polar “capsules”, we might aspire to some of the qualities noted above: to be calm and organised, determined but patient, self-reliant but connected.

For some people, lockdown may provide time for creative pursuits.
Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

Lonelineness versus time alone

The coronavirus pandemic has arrived on the heels of what some describe as a “loneliness epidemic”, but these headlines may be overblown. Again, part of what is missing in such descriptions is the fact that clouds for some are silver linings for others.

A counterpoint to the so-called loneliness epidemic is the study of “aloneliness”, the negative emotions many experience as a result of insufficient time spent alone. As Anthony Storr wrote in Solitude: A return to the self, “solitude can be as therapeutic as emotional support”, and the capacity to be alone is as much a form of emotional maturity as the capacity to form close attachments.

Of course, some people in lockdown are facing formidable challenges that have nothing to do with their personality. Many have lost their jobs and face economic hardship. Some are completely isolated whereas others share their homes with loved ones. Even so, our response to these challenges reflects not only our predicament, but also ourselves.The Conversation

Luke Smillie, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne and Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Public gatherings restricted to two people and all foreign investment proposals scrutinised, in new coronavirus measures

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

No more than two people are to gather together in public spaces, and playgrounds will be closed in the latest restrictions in the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile the government will now scrutinise all foreign investment proposals as well as impose longer time frames on examining applications “to protect Australia’s national interest” during the crisis.

The only exception to the two-person rule, endorsed by the national cabinet on Sunday, will be for people of the same household going out together, funerals (maximum ten), weddings (maximum five) and family units.

But it will be up to individual states and territories to decide whether to make the new rule enforceable. A ten-person limit is currently enforceable in most states and territories.

As of late Sunday, more than 211,000 tests had been undertaken and there had been 3,966 confirmed cases in Australia, with 16 deaths.

The government is hopeful the curve of the virus may be flattening but the national cabinet warns that in some jurisdictions retail outlets should be prepared for further measures.

States and territories have agreed they will put in place additional measures specific to their own regions, including closing categories of venues, where medical advice supports this.

Announcing the latest restrictions on Sunday night, Scott Morrison said public playgrounds, outside gyms and skate parks will now also be closed, adding to the extensive list of closures already in place.

This means the earlier limit of 10 people for an outdoor bootcamp, set last week, comes down to an individual and their trainer.

Morrison reiterated that in general, people should stay at home except for shopping (as infrequently as possible) for necessary items, medical care or compassionate reasons, exercise, and work or education that can’t be done at home.

He also said the strong advice for those 70 and over was to self-isolate to the maximum extent practicable for their own protection; this applied to those over 60 with chronic illnesses, and indigenous people aged over 50.

Asked why, given the two-person rule, shopping centres were still being allowed to remain open, Morrison said people needed to buy things other than food.

He gave the example of his own family. “Our kids are at home now, as are most kids, and Jenny went out yesterday and bought them a whole bunch of jigsaw puzzles.

“I can assure you over the next few months, we’re going to consider those jigsaw puzzles absolutely essential.

“It’s important that parents and families and households can get the things that they need to completely change the way they are going to live for the next six months at least.” This included people buying sporting equipment for home exercise.

The national cabinet agreed on principles for commercial and residential tenancies.

There will be a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for those in financial distress who can’t meet their commitments due to the virus.

Commercial tenants, landlords and financial institutions are being encouraged to find ways to ensure businesses can survive.

The federal government is working on a huge third support package expected to include wage subsidies.

Announcing the foreign investment changes, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stressed this was not a freeze on foreign investment and was temporary, lasting for the duration of the crisis.

“Australia is open for business and recognises investment at this time can be beneficial if in the national interest,” he said.

Under the foreign investment regime there are various thresholds for triggering scrutiny, according to type, value and source of the investment.

But now all proposed foreign investments that are subject to the the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act will need approval.

To ensure enough time for scrutiny the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) would work with existing and new applicants to extend the review time from 30 days to up to six months, Frydenberg said.

The government would give priority to “urgent applications for investments that protect and support Australian business and Australian jobs,” he said.

“The Government recognises that foreign investment will play an important part in helping many businesses get to the other side – securing jobs and supporting our economic recovery.

“However, these measures are necessary to safeguard the national interest as the coronavirus outbreak puts intense pressure on the Australian economy and Australian businesses.”

UPDATE – 30 March

Frydenberg told the ABC on Monday “we don’t want predatory behaviour, which is not in the national interest occurring.”

He said that in the current circumstances “distressed companies” might be targeted, but he denied the clampdown was directed particularly at China.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hotel quarantine for returning Aussies and ‘hibernation’ assistance for businesses

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

All Australians arriving from overseas will be quarantined in hotels or other facilities under strict supervision for a fortnight, under the latest crackdown in the battle against the coronavirus.

Announcing the measure after Friday’s meeting of the national cabinet of federal and state leaders, Scott Morrison said people would be quarantined where they arrived, even if this was not their ultimate destination.

The current requirement has been for arrivals to self-isolate for two weeks.

The states will administer the quarantine and pay for it but the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force will assist, as the attempt to deal with imported cases tightens.

The ADF will bolster police efforts in visiting the homes of people who are in isolation and will report to local police on whether the person is at home.

But the ADF personnel will not have legal power to take action against people breaching conditions – that rests with state and territory police.

The ADF will be there “to put boots on the ground, to support [state authorities] in their enforcement efforts,” Morrison said.

Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Which leaders and health experts will be on the right side of history on COVID-19 policy?

The government has made the move – starting from Saturday night – to strongly-supervised quarantine because incoming travellers present the highest risk.

Figures before the national cabinet showed about 85% of cases in Australia were overseas-acquired or locally acquired contacts of a confirmed case.

Numbers of people arriving in Australia are drastically down. For example on Thursday there were 7,120 arrivals at airports around the country. This compared with 48,725 a year ago.

Morrison also flagged a third economic assistance package – to be announced as early as Sunday or Monday – which would aim to have companies “hibernate” so they could recommence operations after the crisis has passed.

This “means on the other side, the employees come back, the opportunities come back, the economy comes back,” Morrison said.

“This will underpin our strategy as we go to the third tranche of our economic plan,” he said.

“That will include support by states and territories on managing the very difficult issue of commercial tenancies and also dealing ultimately with residential tenancies as

States are now moving to tougher restrictions at different paces. NSW, where the situation is most serious, is closest to a more extensive form of shutdown, with Victoria not too far behind it.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews repeated that Victoria would at some point move from the present stage two to “stage three”.

There is not public clarity at either federal or state level precisely how the next stage would operate.

Morrison rejected the language of lockdown. “I would actually caution.
the media against using the word “lockdown”.

“I think it does create unnecessary anxiety. Because that is not an arrangement that is actually being considered in the way that term might suggest,” he said.

“We are battling this thing on two fronts and they are both important. We’re battling this virus with all the measures that we’re putting in place and we’re battling the economic crisis that has been caused as a result of the coronavirus.

“Both will take lives. Both will take livelihoods. And it’s incredibly important that we continue to focus on battling both of these enemies to Australia’s way of life.

“No decision that we’re taking on the health front that has these terrible economic impacts is being taken lightly. Every day someone is in a job, for just another day, is worth fighting for”, he said.

He said some businesses would have to close their doors and the government did not want them so saddled with debt, rent and other liabilities that they would not be able to reopen.

Morrison enthused about how Australians had responded to the tougher measures announced this week. “On behalf of all the premiers and chief ministers and myself, the members of the national cabinet, we simply want to say to you, Australia – thank you. Keep doing it. You’re saving lives and you’re saving livelihoods”.

Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty on the coronavirus crisis and the timeline for a vaccine

On schools, the states have now bypassed Morrison, who wanted children to keep attending them.

A statement from the national cabinet said: “We are now in a transition phase until the end of term as schools prepare for a new mode of operation following the school holidays.

“While the medical advice remains that it is safe for children to go to school, to assist with the transition underway in our schools to the new mode of operation we ask that only children of workers for whom no suitable care arrangements are available at home to support their learning, physically attend school.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.