Why people defying stay-at-home order just won’t listen

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe addresses the media at Afya House in Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

Just as the coronavirus  has so far spread unevenly across the country and the world, so too has the caution that is necessary to mitigate it. For each Kenyan leaving home only when absolutely necessary, it seems, there is another who is gallivanting all over the place like it’s still 2019.

Sandra Wekesa @Sandra­_wekesa

Living through the coronavirus pandemic is strange. Most people have never been asked to make sacrifices  such as staying home and limiting physical contact with others like this.

All this disruption can make people anxious to the point of impairing their judgement.

And for some, that includes ignoring the novel coronavirus altogether and carrying on as though it’s business as usual, yes, even with the curfew in place.

Despite repeated pleas from the government through the Ministry of Health to stay home and slow the spread of Covid-19, many people just won’t.

Party lovers, including government and judiciary officials, are throwing underground parties in estates, people are visiting friends and family, shoppers are packed in markets, supermarkets, movie shops, hair salons and barbershops.

And the slogan when friends and family meet has been ‘You don’t look sick’, or ‘I trust you’. 

Business as usual

Over the Easter weekend, 16 residents of Embakasi’s Nyayo Estate were arrested for attending a birthday party in a house and forced into quarantine.

Embakasi Central Member of Parliament Benjamin Gathiru was also on Saturday evening arrested in a pub after breaking the curfew directive.

The MP was among others who were arrested at the Royal Tavern Pub in Ruai for flouting the curfew rule.

This raises the question, why won’t some people take the coronavirus threat seriously?  Are people overlooking the reasoning for these recommendations or are they just throwing all caution to the wind?

Arnold Odhiambo says staying at home at this time is boring, so he mantains a ‘small’ social circle that he meets to have a good time with.

“I am sure do not hang out with other people except our circle,” he says blatantly. 

Psychologists say there are a handful of reasons, and most of them come down to human nature.

“There’s a psychological reason why some people may feel highly disinclined to ignore social distancing.

In times of high stress, some people respond with rebelliousness,” says counselling psychologist Lydia Mueni.

She points out that some people are trying to retain a feeling of control by ignoring or defying stay-at-home orders. Other people are oppositional in nature and routinely defy authority.

Many more are in denial, especially if they aren’t in hardest-hit areas, aren’t in high-risk groups and don’t know anyone with the virus.

Ken Munyua, a counselling psychologist agrees. He says rather than calling it social distancing, it should be called physical distancing for the sake of people’s mental well being.

Telling them to stay away from each other  breaks them, thus the anxiety. “Anxiety affects our ability to think clearly and make sound decisions.

The influx of uncertainty could be contributing to denial of reality,” he says.

However, he says, this doesn’t mean that you hop onto everyone’s house and hold parties.

“I still visit my parents who live close by, but we discussed the importance of maintaining a social circle.

This means we are exclusive with each other, especially on the people we interact with,” he says.

He says people who are defying calls to self isolate are doing so because they don’t realise the influence their actions on others.

They are trapped in their own minds, looking out at what is going on elsewhere, and failing to recognise their own role in it.  

What to do

Given that we still have a long time to stay indoors, how should friends and family members who aren’t convinced by facts be managed? 

Mercy Wandie says hosting people in her house is the last thing she can do because she is a new mother.

“It has been quite a challenge keeping family and friends away since they are excited to see the baby, but I cannot just let them.

Besides people have been too careless, ignoring the social distancing order, I just can’t trust anyone to visit us,” she says.

Mercy has been using virtual means to introduce her child to her family. She also ensures that movement in and out of the house is minimal, and agreed with her househelp not to take any offs until the pandemic is over.

Being  African, though, its been against the norm as people always want  to hold newborns physically.

The best way to try to convince people to stay away from each other Munyua says is by using positive reinforcement. 

“People are doing whatever they’re doing to maintain a sense of control over the situation, to feel like they’re protecting themselves.

So you could give them another option to achieve a similar effect,” he says. Do this by being empathic, nonjudgmental, noncritical in tone and you are much more likely to motivate the other person to abide.

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