Pathways and Obstacles to Social Recovery Following the Elimination of SARS-CoV-2 From Aotearoa New Zealand: A Qualitative Cross-sectional Study
Long, NJ; Appleton, NS; Davies, S; Deckert, A; Fehoko, E; Holroyd, E; Martin-Anatias, N; Sterling, R; Trnka, S; Tunufa'I, L
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Background Many public health experts have claimed that elimination strategies of pandemic response allow ‘normal social life’ to resume. Recognizing that social connections and feelings of normality are important for public health, this study examines whether, and for whom, that goal is realized, and identifies obstacles that may inhibit its achievement. Methods Thematic analysis of narratives obtained via a qualitative cross-sectional survey of a community cohort in Aotearoa | New Zealand. Results A majority of participants reported that life after elimination was ‘more or less the same’ as before the pandemic. Some became more social. Nevertheless, a sizeable minority reported being less social, even many months after elimination. Key obstacles to social recovery included fears that the virus was circulating undetected and the enduring impact of lockdowns upon social relationships, personal habits and mental health. Within our sample, old age and underlying health conditions were both associated with a propensity to become less social. Conclusions Elimination strategies can successfully allow ‘normal social life’ to resume. However, this outcome is not guaranteed. People may encounter difficulties with re-establishing social connections in Zero-COVID settings. Measures designed to overcome such obstacles should be an integral part of elimination strategies.