The uneven results of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic which emerged last year hold an important lesson. Societies that are rational, scientific, reject fake news and are well-organised, disciplined and united have the best chance of emerging more intact from Covid-19 outbreaks. That is compared to societies where fear, superstition, paranoia, public credulity towards sensational information and administrative disorganisation prevail. This gulf certainly is not an East-West issue. Western societies such as the United States, which faltered badly initially, have turned a bad situation around, while Asian societies such as Japan, Vietnam and even Taiwan - a territory whose initial successes were remarkable - are struggling now. Covid-19 presents an evolving challenge which societies need to meet by honing their instincts for survival on both the epidemiological and economic fronts.
The new normal being created by the outbreaks will test nations on the fundamentals of their social organisation. Those whose citizens work together to uphold sensible safeguards put in place by responsible governments will be able to reopen their economies, reconnect with the rest of the world and prosper. If anything, the experience of Covid-19 would have toughened societies and made them more confident of their inherent strengths and more resilient to adversity.
This would be the quality of the national response required should Covid-19 prove to be an endemic disease. And that includes situations where particular mutations of the disease are found to be more transmissible but not necessarily more deadly. Hence, Covid-19 would come to resemble the common cold and other respiratory infections and would require the administration of booster shots updated with different new variants, much as how flu vaccine shots are upgraded regularly. The not-so-good news is that any eventual epidemiological downgrading of Covid-19 lies in the future. In the meantime, the disease continues to mutate and to spread, requiring societies to stay on guard against new variants and the speed and extent of their spread.
Singapore's threefold approach to the new normal consists of testing the population, tracing the spread of infections, and vaccinating people extensively and more quickly. The public at large should pitch in by internalising the consequences of the long-term fight against Covid-19. The disease will not go away any time soon. But its impact could be minimised by residents complementing official efforts by practising safe distancing, habitual wearing of masks, and the instinctive sanitising of hands. In a well-ordered society, such reflexes must continue to be second nature. Residents should also keep faith in the collective national effort to beat the disease. Containing it requires a sustained and united effort.