A new study looks at what has happened to Australians’ social life during lockdown by the pandemic. The findings suggest that COVID-19 may have had a long-term impact on our friendships, and not necessarily for the better.

The participants came from all states and territories, ranged in age from 18 to 88, and about two-thirds were women.

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During 2020–21, over 2,000 Australians were surveyed about their experiences during and after the lockdown. Each person was surveyed three times and asked about their interactions, lifestyles, and plans.

Australia is in a unique position for this type of study, thanks to the early release from lockdown in 2020. This means that we were able to learn about the COVID-19 experience of Australians during and many months after the lockdown..

As expected, many participants reported an increase in disconnection and loneliness during confinement. Interactions with friends “just weren’t the same.” More worrying, however, was that these feelings continued months after the confinement ended. Some respondents described a lasting impact on their attitudes towards friendship and socialization.

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Participants also described how friendship networks narrowed as they “pruned” more distant connections during confinement. The networks of some participants were reduced due to lack of opportunities to catch upOthers described how the stress of the pandemic left them wanting to connect only with those who mattered most to them. Unfortunately for many, the friendship networks remained smaller months after the closure.

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Continual restrictions on group activities spread feelings of disconnection. Younger people were also prevented from forming new relationships, as university studies moved to the internet and many odd jobs were eliminated.

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Previous studies have suggested that digital communication can help reduce loneliness when used for interactive (rather than passive) purposes to help shore up existing personal relationships. But the present study shows How Digital Connections Can’t Make Up For In-Person Friendships After COVID-19 On Their Own. The study also shows that we cannot take post-COVID socialization for granted. It won’t necessarily go back to the way it was once the restrictions are eased. We will have to make conscious efforts to reunite with old friends and make new ones when we are allowed to do so in person.