ON Dec 8 last year, Margaret Keenan became the first person in the United Kingdom to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. She took her second dose three weeks later, having celebrated her 91st birthday in between the shots.
Her vaccination marked the start of the largest inoculation exercise the UK has ever seen in modern times. Fast forward some eight months later, 88% of the population have received their first dose and 66.8% are fully vaccinated as of July 19, the day the government of Boris Johnson lifted all the coronavirus restrictions in England.
The British media touted it as “Freedom Day”, and the people, at least those in England, took steps towards going back to their pre-Covid-19 lives.
But make no mistake. The number of new infections in the UK has not abated; in fact, it has been climbing over the past weeks with 46,558 cases reported on July 20.
Over the last seven days prior, 332,068 new cases were reported, a rise of a whopping 40.7% over the previous period.
By comparison, Malaysia saw 12,366 new infections on July 20 despite having a population of around half the size of the UK. Between June 1 and July 19, 950,000 new infections were reported in the UK.
In other words, the country recorded more positive cases over that 49-day period than the cumulative number of infections in Malaysia, which stands at just over 900,000 since the start of the pandemic.
The UK government has attributed the re-opening of the economy to three key factors – the low death rate due to Covid-19, the high vaccination rate in the country, and the strain on the economy from a prolonged lockdown.
The UK’s Covid-19 death rate stands at 0.4 per 100,000 people, which is one of the lowest in the world. Ninety-six deaths were reported on July 20, a far cry from the close to 2,000 deaths a day in late January.
The current Covid-19 death rate in the UK is similar to the figure for mortalities caused by the common flu.
Last year, the UK economy contracted by 9.9%, the largest dip in the country’s 300-year history. In the first quarter of this year, its GDP shrunk by a further 1.5%, costing the country to lose trillions of pounds in revenue.
This is why the UK government took the bold gamble in reopening the economy despite the raging infection number.
It boils down to the lesser of two evils – choosing to live with a pandemic where the death rate is similar to that of the common flu or having the economy further choked with prolonged lockdowns.
The UK experience should provide valuable lessons for other countries, including Malaysia. As such, all eyes will be on it as it walks the lives-livelihood tightrope in the weeks and months to come.
Our daily new infections have also spiked over the past weeks, but if it’s any consolation, majority of the cases were classified as Category 1 and 2, meaning the patients were either asymptomatic or only had mild symptoms.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said that the country should finish vaccinating its entire eligible adult population by October.
Going by some estimates, the target could even be reached before then.
Vaccination is no silver bullet in ending the pandemic but it is key for Malaysia and other countries to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic days.
With the National Recovery Plan now in motion, it is time for us to prepare for the eventual reopening of the economy and reclaim the life that has eluded us over the past 18 months.