Last year, thousands of UAE nationals and residents were forced to abandon festive season holiday plans with their loved ones due to the surging coronavirus pandemic.
This year, UAE doctors have warned people to practice caution ahead of Christmas and New Year as cases crossed the 650-mark on Wednesday, December 22.
After a year of austere celebrations, most UAE residents are planning large to mid-scale festivities during the coming weeks. Doctors have also said there is a probability people may be facing pandemic fatigue and burnout as the pandemic continues to disrupt daily lives.
"Although vaccines and treatments promise that someday life will return to some kind of normalcy, a growing number of people are experiencing pandemic burnout. The desire to follow protective guidelines is waning, and a sense of exhaustion is on the rise," said Dr Tholfkar Al Baaj, the chief clinical officer at HealthHub Clinics by Al Futtaim.
Dr Ahmed Fouad Mady, a general medicine practitioner at Aster Clinic, Al Sweihat, said: "It's been two years since we have normalised the use of face masks and hand sanitisers frequently."
He added: "The festive season is approaching. For the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak, it seems safer than ever to have grand celebrations given full vaccination rate exceeds 90 per cent in the UAE. But we have to take care. There has been a slight increase in numbers of new infections across the Emirates in the past few days."
However, there is some good news. UAE government spokesperson Noura Al Ghaithi said on Tuesday: "More than 55 per cent of hospital beds, including those for intensive care, are vacant. Currently, only about 3 per cent of patients at hospitals are Covid-19 cases."
Dr Marwan Hawari, medical director at Burjeel Specialty Hospital, Sharjah, said that most UAE residents have received two doses of the vaccine. "Since people are getting the booster doses, the people of UAE are relatively safer against the Covid-19 viral infection," said Dr Hawari.
"Not being able to do any of our normal activities at this point is causing us to have pandemic fatigue," said Dr Al Baaj.
"It has been a long time since we've been able to do normal things, like go out to eat without the fear of catching Covid-19 or have playdates without the fear of our kids getting sick. We're having to wear a mask and do things we haven't done before."
Pandemic burnout is a new type of burnout, one where fear, anxiety and a sense of helplessness add a stifling layer on top of chronic physical and mental fatigue brought on by 'burning both ends of the candle' on the work and home front.
Dr Al Baaj described burnouts as emotional exhaustion and decreased personal achievement in response to interpersonal and emotional stress.
"It's an occupational illness, a state of fatigue and frustration brought about by over-commitment to work, a cause or a way of life that does not produce the expected reward. It's not just physical exhaustion; it's an erosion of the soul in people," he said.
Dr Hawari said with a festive season soon approaching, it is natural that people want to have much-awaited get-togethers.
"It is understandable that people have been maintaining restraint for the past two years and want to come together this time," he said. "Unfortunately, globally, we are seeing a far contagious variant spreading at a faster pace; we must be cautious while out in public and gatherings during the festival season."
Meanwhile, Dr Mady said: "People need to follow the safety guidelines like wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing during this festive season. As cases are on the rise, it is better to avoid large events and enjoy the festive season at-home safely with the family."
Dr Karthikeyan Dakshinamoorthy, a specialist in internal medicine at NMC Royal Hospital, Dubai Investment Park, said: "People who experience pandemic fatigue are less effective in their jobs and fail to comply with safety guidelines. They are emotionally demotivated, and they either sleep excessively or sleep less."
Moreover, pandemic burnouts should be recognised early. "If not, people can develop depression, efficiency in their work can decrease, or in worst-case scenarios, they even develop suicidal thoughts," said Dakshinamoorthy.
"One can cope up with pandemic fatigue by taking time outs from their routine work," he added. "They can spend time with their family or get connected with them through video calls; they can take a day trip out or spend time with exercise, yoga or meditation. Even going out for a routine shopping than an online order will help them relax."
Doctors are sympathetic; however, they have asked UAE residents not to give up hope.
Dr Al Baaj said: "Don't give up. There is hope with the vaccine. Just having the vaccine out has decreased the anxiety of many healthcare workers. Even with the new variants around, Omicron being the latest and the most transmissible so far, we see an end in sight. Pushing more booster shots and developing second and third-generation vaccines that will eventually put an end to this pandemic."
He added: "If you're fully vaccinated, there's still a small chance you could have Covid-19, and you don't want to give it to someone who hasn't been vaccinated yet. If we can hold out, hopefully, we can get back to some point of normalcy."
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