Just accept that Covid-19 can’t be eliminated


Just accept that Covid-19 can’t be eliminated
By Zan Azlee

I was having a chat with my neighbour yesterday and as usual, we were catching up on each other’s lives. We talked about work, about the family, and of course, how we were all coping so far in the pandemic.

Our conversation moved on to what we would all do when the Klang Valley moves on to Phase 2 and eventually Phase 3 of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).

He mentioned that it’s scary to think we can move on to Phase 2 when the latest daily infection number is still so high and that loosening up of the community might not be a good idea.

I might have been a little unfair because I kind of cut him off and went on a little bit of a tirade. But we are close friends so I’m sure (or I hope!) he didn’t take offence.

Before I talk about my tirade, let me explain some context. My family consists of five people – myself, my wife, and three kids ranging from the ages of two to 10.

We have been under lockdown for a year and a half now. The two older kids haven’t been able to go to a physical school. The younger one hasn’t had the opportunity to have playdates with kids his age.

My wife and I have not been able to fully work in that same amount of time and income is constantly a worry. We are stuck at home and cabin fever had long set in. We need to consider the stress and mental health that our kids are facing, not to mention ourselves as well. Kids are frustrated, angry and sad, and so are we.

Basically, we are struggling and we need life to get back to normal. So when the new Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin makes statements that refer to the pandemic becoming endemic, I was ecstatic.

I desperately need life to move on. I need to work and my kids need to go to school, play with friends, and travel for holidays.

To give you a clear illustration, let me explain an endemic in simple terms. Dengue is endemic in Malaysia. An outbreak happened in the 1980s and it is still a big problem today.

But we aren’t under lockdown due to dengue and life is going on as usual. Of course, awareness is a big thing when it comes to dengue and we all know what we’re supposed to do.

 

Since the 1980s, we have been living the ‘new normal’ with dengue in our midst. We know enough to ensure that our surroundings are clean and no stagnant or still water exists.

We take precautions so that we reduce exposure to mosquitoes like using mosquito coils, repellants, and closing our windows and doors during dawn and dusk.

So the risks are reduced but dengue will never be eliminated. But we know how to weigh the benefits and risks and decide what is the best way for life to go on.

Of course, we could just lock everyone down indoors so that we will never come into contact with mosquitos, but that wouldn’t be an ideal world to live in. So we do the necessary.

I know that dengue and Covid-19 are different diseases. My point is not to compare the two. All I am trying to say is that we need to find a way to live with Covid-19.

It will be close to impossible to eliminate it because it seems to be here to stay. Just like dengue. So we need to find ways for us to handle and manage it while we go on with our lives.

My family and I do everything that is recommended. We wear our masks. We sanitise our hands and constantly keep clean. We maintain social distancing and we avoid crowded places.

 

My wife and I were so eager to be vaccinated that we made sure we got the AstraZeneca lottery when it was first offered up online. We do the necessary.

Now that the government has loosened up the SOPs for those who are fully vaccinated, we are taking full advantage of it. As a family, we went out for our first dining experience.

It was just to the mamak two roads from our house, but we were all so excited. My daughters wore dresses and put on shoes. My wife and I were holding hands as we walked from the car.

In fact, even the waiters at the shop were happy to see us. They greeted us enthusiastically and asked to see our vaccination certificates. My kids ate two to three times the amount they usually eat.

We were chatting and laughing and singing. It was such a boost of morale. We went home and I think that was the most satisfying dinner we had in quite a while.

We have been out several times after that. But rest assured, we have been strict with the SOPs and our kids are always masked.

Of course, we also avoid places that seem too overcrowded, which isn’t hard to do since not many people are ready to go out just yet. We went to a Japanese restaurant last week and we were practically the only customers there.

Yes, there will be risks for us going out, but weighing the risks and the advantages of our family’s mental health and stress levels, my wife and I have decided that the advantages outweigh the risks.

 

And I repeat, we follow the SOPs very strictly. I am constantly yelling at my girls to wash their hands while my two-year-old son knows better than to pull off his mask.

I remember there was some talk by the government to stop evaluating risk based on the raw daily number of infections.

They wanted to start looking at different factors such as the capacity of the healthcare system and the different asymptomatic and symptomatic categories of patients so that we won’t be so obsessed with looking at the general daily numbers.

Seems like a good idea to me. If we look at the trend, a huge bulk of the cases are Category 1 and 2, which are asymptomatic or mild symptoms.

Many are also those who have been vaccinated, which means that vaccination works and herd immunity will eventually work in reducing the risks as well. We can’t eliminate it, but we can manage it.

I know some people will say even though you’ve been vaccinated and are asymptomatic, you are still infectious and can spread it. I agree. But that’s why regular monitoring, contact tracing, and testing are still important for now.

When you know you have it, be responsible and quarantine yourself. As I said, we can’t eliminate it, but we can manage it.

Different approach

We can’t stay locked down forever. If we do, then bigger risks other than the actual virus will emerge. We can see it happening already.

People are losing jobs and falling into poverty. Mental health issues are on the rise and even the media has been highlighting an upward trend in suicides. Education is suffering, industries are suffering, and so much more.

I am not saying that we need to take things lightly. Far from it, We need to take it very seriously. What I am saying is that we need to find a different approach than just lockdown.

With a new health minister helming the fight against Covid-19, let’s hope that there will be some progress. I am waiting for the new SOPs as we move into an endemic with bated breath.

Now back to my response to my neighbour. He asked me if work was the reason why I wanted things to open up soon.

Yes, of course, work is important. But my immediate response to him was that I wanted to take my kids on a short holiday once we are allowed to. I think we all deserve it after everything we have gone through.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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