2020 has been an unprecedented year for everyone and because of the pandemic, life will not be the same as it was before.
The pandemic has forced us to adapt and change the way we live because things won’t go back to normal in a few weeks, or even a few months. Some things never will go back to the way it was before March 18, when the movement control order was first enforced.StarLifestyle speaks to public health specialist Professor Dr Noran Naqiah Mohd Hairi from University of Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine to learn more about the “new normal”.
We can to go back to our old normal only if:
(a) A vaccine is developed, gets approved and is administered to the population
(b) A good anti-viral drug is developed and can be used to treat everyone who is ill
(c) Covid-19 runs its natural course in history by infecting 80% of the population before a natural herd immunity develops.
There is still much that we don’t know about the virus: how it is really transmitted, what drives its transmission, whether there are variants and different strains, what role asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals have in spreading the virus, whether infected individuals are immune from re-infection, or how long the virus will last.
What we do know is we need to be prepared for the new normal.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is a smart virus that is able to survive in the human population. We need to “live with it” by practising social distancing, having good hand hygiene, wearing face masks, and avoiding crowds.
In the past, we could go out, lepak with friends or go shopping. But now, restaurants, mamak stalls and shopping complexes must restrict the number of people to avoid crowds.
People also need to be at least one to two metres away from one another.
Commercial places (shopping malls, restaurants) must come up with innovative solutions such as physical rearrangements to comply with these social distancing rules.
Masking for all is also a new normal: wearing a face mask reduces the risk of infected persons (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) spreading the virus to others. Virus shredding occurs at the onset of the illness and infected individuals are very transmissible two to three days before symptoms appear.
Other aspects of the new normal are how we work and learn. Working from home (WFH) is a new culture in Malaysia, there is no longer a need for frequent face-to-face meetings. Online classes are also a new normal.
We cannot be in MCO forever. We have to accept the fact that we need to find a way to “live with” this virus. There must be a balance between saving lives and saving our livelihood.
Staying at home is still the safest thing to do. For those who don’t need to go out, please remain at home because the virus is still out there.
This depends on how disciplined Malaysians are. We need to take responsibility for our own health. Loosening restrictions doesn’t mean zero transmissions.
There may be micro outbreaks but they can be controlled with effective, aggressive surveillance methods such as influenza-like illness (ILI) and severe acute respiratory infections (SARI).
There is a possibility of future MCOs if there are accelerated cases, but this is a localised or “precision MCO” (restricted movement within communities involved).
The world has been aggressively dealing with Covid-19 for some time and we can learn from the experience of other countries such as the impact of lifting restrictions on subsequent infections.
Slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time is known as "flattening the curve”. This "curve" is the projected number of people who become infected with Covid-19 over a period of time.
Speed matters: the faster the infection curve rises, the faster the health care system/hospitals get overburdened and overwhelmed beyond their capacity to treat people. This is dangerous and reflects what happened in Italy.
A flatter curve assumes the same number of people get infected over a longer period of time so the healthcare system can cope. The MCOs that we went through have helped flatten the curve.
We need to stop public shaming and instead help each other be safe. This pandemic has put the human conscience to the test. We need to make sure that this pandemic brings out the best and not the worst in us through positive and not negative reinforcement.
For more information, visit University of Malaya’s Covid-19 Public Health Knowledge Centre.
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