‘Lockdown fatigue’ begins to bite
Australians are being urged to maintain social distancing amid signs people are increasingly venturing out of their homes as coronavirus lockdown "fatigue" sets in.
Mobility data from Apple, which has made the anonymised information available publicly, shows requests for directions through Apple Maps have begun to trend upwards again after plummeting in early March.
Requests for road directions in Australia are still down 58 per cent from normal levels, but have begun to increase after bottoming out at more than 70 per cent in early April.
Foot direction requests have also begun to tick up and now sit at 61 per cent below normal levels, although public transport requests have remained flat and are still 81 per cent down.
There are similar signs overseas including in the US and parts of Europe, where lockdowns in some countries are gradually being eased.
In Spain, children have been allowed outside for the first time in six weeks.
A study by the University of Maryland tracking more than 100 million Americans' mobile devices showed six weeks of staying home levels increasing, until April 17 when the numbers dropped from 33 per cent to 31 per cent.
"We saw something we hoped wasn't happening, but it's there," lead researcher Lei Zhang told The Washington Post.
"It seems collectively we're getting a little tired. It looks like people are loosening up on their own to travel more."
UNSW social scientist Dr Holly Seale said there "may be people out there who are coming to the end of their level of acceptance".
"It is challenging to live with some of these restrictions," she said.
But Dr Seale cautioned against attributing the Australian data to "fatigue" without actual opinion surveys.
She suggested it could be due to the community "misunderstanding or misinterpreting" positive comments from politicians and health officials in the media.
"They're seeing in the media the Prime Minister and other politicians and health leaders speak about the fact that the curve is flattening, that no new cases are popping up," she said.
"We definitely need to highlight the wins we've had and to congratulate people on doing so well, but at the same time to highlight that this is still an ongoing issue, that we don't understand what is going to be the outcome of loosening these restrictions and that there may be a time where some restrictions may have to be employed again."
Dr Seale said there was also still ongoing confusion about what was actually permitted.
"I wouldn't even know around all the states and territories what's allowable and not (right now)," she said.
Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory have announced they will begin easing some restrictions on movement and gathering sizes, but states such as Victoria are holding off for now.
Over the weekend, a number of Sydney beaches were reopened to visitors only to be closed again hours later due to large groups of people flouting social distancing.
Dr Seale, who lives in the eastern suburbs, said the emails from Randwick Council to the public about which beaches were open and when had been "confusing".
"Those mixed messages about opening, closing, opening, closing, probably don't help," she said. "There does need to be better messaging."
She suggested that communication from authorities should include the "rationale for the action".
"It's not just, this is the rule, it's about telling people why the rule has been put into play or why there has been an easing," she said.
It comes after dozens of people flouted social distancing rules to attend an anti-lockdown protest in regional Victoria over the weekend - believed to be the first since the beginning of the pandemic.
Similar protests have been held notably in the US, where President Donald Trump, eager to restart the economy, is clashing with state governors over when and how to ease their lockdowns.
Mr Trump's own messaging has been confused, however. Last week he criticised Georgia Governor Brian Kemp - a Republican - for moving too quickly ahead of the guidelines offered by the White House.