Still too close for comfort

WE have only ourselves to blame.

As our lockdown status morphed from the movement control order to the conditional MCO, we started celebrating too early. Call it pandemic fatigue or pent-up frustration, we ignored the danger signs, we ignored standard operating procedure (SOP). And now, we are paying the price.

Daily Covid-19 figures have passed the 3,000 mark after being in the high 2,000s for more than a week. Our healthcare system is once again being overwhelmed.

The Health Ministry had projected a daily figure of 3,000-plus cases when we get closer to Hari Raya, but this projection may now have to be revised upwards. Despite this, there are still calls for the government to lift the interstate travel ban.

I am as guilty as the next person for taking my eye off the ball. In the last one month, I have gone for two Covid-19 tests. Thankfully, both were negative, but I tested both times because I had come into close contact with people who were Covid-19 positive.

I now have five friends who have recovered or are still in quarantine after testing positive – all in the space of one month. This is the first time since March 2020, when we first went into lockdown, that I actually know people who were infected.

And the scary part is these people were asymptomatic – leading me to question if our current SOP of temperature checks and scanning the MySejahtera app is an effective way of screening for positive cases.

And judging from the way Malaysians are going about their business, especially in the Klang Valley, you couldn’t tell that there really is a health crisis.

What is happening in India now is a lesson we should heed. The subcontinent is in the midst of a full-blown humanitarian crisis. At 320,000 new cases daily and a cumulative total of 18 million cases, as well as 200,000 deaths, India is second only to the United States.

But while the United States has already vaccinated 40% of its population and seen a drastic drop in cases, India has only fully vaccinated 17 million people or just 1.2% of its population.

The Covid-19 catastrophe in India should be a wake-up call for us. Earlier this year, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi acted as if the coronavirus battle had already been won, holding huge campaign rallies and permitting thousands to gather for festivals.

But a variant known as the “double mutant”, because it contains genetic mutations found in two other difficult-to-control versions of the coronavirus, has emerged and ripped through the country.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) calls the situation in India “beyond heart-breaking”.

I’m not saying that we are even close to the situation in India – far from it – but the authorities have to take some urgent measures to stem the spike in cases.

The last thing we want is to revert to a total lockdown, but tough calls have to be made.

That’s why it is sad that our Muslim friends will not be able to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri fully. For the second year running, there will not be any balik kampung rush as the government has banned interstate travel until after Raya.

For the millions of people celebrating the festival, this is the worst possible news. But it is also the right decision as we cannot afford another wave of the pandemic to hit the country if people from red states are allowed to travel to green areas, bringing the virus with them.

It is also the right decision to close schools after the Hari Raya holiday. This is a controversial move as many working parents will now have to make alternate arrangements because their children will be taking online classes from home.

But once again, with the number of Covid-19 cases in schools on the rise, the government has little choice but to act.

I fully expect the work-from-home ruling to be reinstated, for both the private and public sector to provide some relief for parents of school-going children.

And don’t be surprised if the presence of huge crowds and a lack of physical distancing at Ramadan bazaars prompt the authorities to act. The bazaars are part and parcel of Malaysian life, but the apparent lack of adherence to the SOP cannot be overlooked for much longer.

Patience is the keyword here as we need to weather this Covid-19 surge while our vaccination efforts pick up.

I believe the wider public can and will accept further restrictions on our daily life, but there should not be one rule for the average man on the street and another for VIPs, celebrities and ministers.

The people are fed up with perceived double standards as the common man is constantly admonished, fined and punished whereas the privileged are let off with a slap on the wrist.

Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, and neither should the government.

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Brian Martin

Brian Martin

Brian Martin is the managing editor of The Star.


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