4 May 2020

Lockdown social cohesion likely to fall as 'acute' phase ends - scientists

2:27 pm on 4 May 2020

The sense of national unity felt during the Covid-19 lockdown may disappear as social isolation and economic costs hit home, a report by leading social scientists warns.

Sir Peter Gluckman

Sir Peter Gluckman, taken at the Otago Museum. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Koi Tū: the Centre for Informed Futures from the University of Auckland has released a discussion paper outlining potential difficulties as restrictions lift.

It argues that social cohesion must be a key consideration for policymakers in a post-Covid-19 world.

Koi Tū director Sir Peter Gluckman said the level of community compliance and collective purpose shown during the fight against Covid-19 has rarely been seen outside wartime.

He warned this would likely begin to waver as the country moved out of the acute phase and the implications of the lockdown became apparent.

"Already, we're seeing a rise in tension between conflicting economic and health interests. Sectors are starting to compete for attention. Some are in hurry to return to a pre-Covid life; others see the opportunity for a major reset," Sir Peter said.

"Many lives have been fundamentally changed, and for those people, the new 'normal' is full of huge uncertainty. That is where social cohesion will start to break down and the mental well-being of many will be further affected."

As well as Sir Peter, the paper was written by Paul Spoonley, Anne Bardsley, Tracey McIntosh, Rangimarie Hunia, Sarb Johal and Richie Poulton and informed by a larger group of mental health experts.

Professor Spoonley said enhanced cohesion was often seen in the initial response to major crises as communities pulled together against a common threat.

However, as the situation evolved over time, social cohesion could be lost and may even become worse than before the crisis.

"We cannot be complacent. Social cohesion is a major asset for New Zealand. A cohesive, safe and Covid-free country will enhance New Zealand's global reputation and help project our place in the world - with positive flow on effects for our economy," he said.

"But once lost, it becomes extremely difficult to restore, especially when there is both increased uncertainty and new forms of inequality."

Sir Peter said that in the coming months and years, there would be many decisions made by government, individuals and businesses to recover from the crisis.

There would be a need to look for the advantages of the 'new normal' that would emerge, he said.

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