The Asian Voice

Get used to the new normal: The Star columnist

Members of the Royal Malaysia Police and soldiers stop motorists at a roadblock set up to maintain the Movement Control Order in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 25, 2020.
Members of the Royal Malaysia Police and soldiers stop motorists at a roadblock set up to maintain the Movement Control Order in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on March 25, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

In his commentary, the writer says that be it the movement control order or working from home, Malaysians should be prepared for a long haul.

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It's been a full week since the movement control order (MCO) came into force and I am among the 92% who are complying with it.

I have not stepped out of the house at all. I think eight months of retirement helped me to adjust to staying home quite happily.

My three adult children are WFH, the trending shortform for "working from home". My husband closed his office but goes in at night to clear stuff.

So far so good. But to most people, it is bearable because the MCO is supposed to be two weeks long, ending March 31. That's how my kids are taking it; a nice break from having to go in to their workplace.

Like in Malaysia, many other governments have put in place movement and gathering restrictions and have introduced partial or full lockdowns, thinking the pandemic can be contained in a matter of weeks and people's lives will go back to "normal".

That is plain wishful thinking.

Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of The Rules of Contagion, a book on how outbreaks spread, was asked how long before we win the fight against Covid-19 and his answer was: "I think this idea... that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life - that's not what's going to happen.

"The main message that isn't getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for."

As he sees it, Covid-19 will continue to circulate potentially for a year or two.

Studies show that there are only two ways to stop the virus - with a vaccine or through herd immunity.

The latter is when enough people have contracted the virus and become immune to it to slow its spread.

 
 

But herd immunity can come at the cost of millions becoming infected and millions dying.

So the only way currently to prevent hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of deaths, is to keep social distancing measures in place for a long period, says Kucharski.

He is supported by a new report from the Covid-19 Response Team at the Imperial College of London, quoted by Vox.com.

But it needs to be maintained "until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more)," the report states.

Vox noted that in their analysis, isolation of confirmed cases and quarantine of older adults without social distancing would still result in hundreds of thousands of deaths. And it warns "transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed".

Already our own experts are sounding the same warning, with one saying the period should be for at least six weeks.

And the government appears to be heeding it. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin indicated on Monday the MCO may not end on March 31.

Bored and restless people are already chafing at the bit, impatient for the restrictions to end and a return to normalcy. But for all the reasons above, I believe the MCO must be extended even if our infection rate goes down and it is at a huge cost to our economy and society.

There is no other way. Governments are doing the right thing in coming up with stimulus packages to keep their economies from crumbling and to ease the citizens' financial needs.

Mr Muyhiddin has announced some measures like allowing RM500 ($167) withdrawals from our Employees Provident Fund for 12 months for people below 55, but can the government consider doling out a universal basic income as well?

A growing group of concerned citizens are urging the government to create a special fund for monies received from the US Justice Department and elsewhere for the disposal of 1MDB assets to be used solely in the fight against Covid-19 and render financial aid to those affected.

I do hope the Perikatan Nasional government, new as it may be, will show strong and reassuring leadership to hold the nation together.

It didn't help that the new Health Minister had foot-in-mouth disease when in a TV interview

on March 19, he encouraged the public to drink warm water to flush the virus into the stomach, where it will be eliminated by the digestive acids.

He has since gone silent, which is just as well as we don't need our own Donald Trump-like character to confuse the public with misinformation. Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah is doing fine as the government spokesman giving daily updates on the Covid-19 situation in the country.

Just as we want our government to be transparent, decisive and effective in dealing with this global threat, we citizens must do our part and diligently practise social distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing.

 
 

This pandemic will eventually end. But what happens after that - how countries collectively prepare for the next outbreak - is of vital importance.

According to leading infectious disease expert Dennis Carroll, "the world is on a cycle of about every three years of getting something like this".

He says the Covid-19 pandemic has got everyone's attention now.

"But this coronavirus will fall off the headlines and when it does, you will see a contraction in the kind of investments that are made in it. We have war budgets and then no monies during peacetime.

"From where I sit, it looks like every country is making this up as they go along. What science allows us to do is understand, with greater granularity, what's at risk. But we have to translate that insight into a sustained valuation of risk and move that forward.

"We're all part of the same ecosystem. This is a global issue. We either prepare for it and respond to it in the context of a global lens, or we don't. If our preparations and responses are country-centric, we're in for some serious trouble."

For the sake of humanity, Carroll's warning needs to go viral.

The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.