UAE study shows how government measures ease pandemic anxiety

Social distancing and school guidelines help but money worries still a problem

Government measures such as social distancing and distance learning reduced general anxiety during the pandemic but financial worries increased, researchers in Abu Dhabi found. Alamy
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Government measures like social distancing and home schooling reduced anxiety during the pandemic but financial worries increased, a new study published by New York University Abu Dhabi has claimed.

Leading global academic institutions, including the University of Oxford and University of Southern California, combined research in 195 countries to assess government responses to the pandemic and their effectiveness on community well-being.

Governments were scored on policies related to social distancing in schools and businesses, health monitoring, medical resources and the wearing of face masks.

We believe the analysis of the new data will offer us useful insights on how people understand the effectiveness of various policies
Robert Kubinec

The research is helping academics understand human behaviour during the outbreak, with important conclusions drawn on mental health.

Results showed business restrictions and social distancing measures were associated strongly with reduced anxiety.

“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the research community has focused its efforts towards collecting and analysing data on government policies aimed at preventing the virus transmission,” said Robert Kubinec, the university’s assistant professor of political science.

“However, our knowledge in terms of which policies or policy types have been the most effective at countering Covid-19 remains limited, mainly due to the scale of the pandemic and the diversity of government responses.”

The findings were derived from Coronanet, an online database that allows researchers to combine policy information from two comprehensive Covid-19 policy data sets.

More than 500 researchers analysed information from more than 60,000 data entries that included Facebook surveys and Google mobility to understand human responses and attitudes since the outbreak.

“We believe the analysis of the new data will offer us useful insights on how people understand the effectiveness of various policies,” Mr Kubinec said.

“Our findings will evolve into a useful tool for governments as they continue to implement policies to address the fluctuations in the Covid-19 spread.”

Researchers examined how government decisions affected financial and general anxiety throughout the community.

While business restrictions and social distancing policies were linked with money worries, such measures helped to ease anxiety overall.

The findings support previous studies that showed suicide rates decreased during the pandemic.

The Centre for Mental Health at the University of Melbourne searched official websites in 21 countries with a population of at least 3 million to find the number of suicides recorded between January 1, 2019 and July 31, 2020.

Results published in The Lancet Psychiatry showed no significant increase, with 12 countries reporting a decrease in suicides during the pandemic.

Academics at NYU Abu Dubai said social distancing measures helped to reduce people’s fears of Covid-19 and its effects on society, while more libertarian approaches to the pandemic increased community anxiety.

Although the research found government measures had some influence on reducing anxiety in schools, worry remained about children’s education and academic performance.

Psychiatrists warned increased hours of screen time brought on by distance learning during the pandemic could fuel mental health issues.

“Many aspects of screen use and the way digital media is consumed can lead to increased anxiety and problems with self-esteem,” Dr Ateeq Qureshi from the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai said.

“Children are finding it hard to self-regulate as screen usage for their social and school lives compete for their attention, and the brain remains in a permanent state of activity and often resultant stress.

“The big threat is that parents will become so inured to the pervasiveness of screens in their children’s lives that they give up any attempt to control or manage it.”

Updated: July 25, 2021, 3:00 AM