The world has to get used to living with the coronavirus, and countries must start thinking about how to save both lives and livelihoods instead of setting up a false dichotomy between the two, said a World Health Organisation (WHO) official yesterday.
Dr Takeshi Kasai, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, noted at a World Economic Forum (WEF) and WHO joint briefing on Covid-19 that there has been debate on whether the measures taken to stop the virus spread are worth the severe economic toll.
But the reality is that governments, companies and individuals will have to come up with ways to allow for the containment of the disease while allowing economic activities to return, he said.
This is because as long as the virus continues to circulate in any part of the world, and before an effective vaccine is found, everyone remains at risk, he said.
"So that's why I really want to emphasise that it is time to think about how we live with this virus and come up with a new normal."
Adding that "we don't have to choose between life (and) livelihood", he said countries in the region have shown how movement control measures can help to avert large-scale community spread of the virus. This keeps hospitals from being overwhelmed, thus preventing more deaths.
Covid-19 has afflicted more than four million people worldwide and caused some 300,000 deaths, and these numbers could have been higher if not for the restrictions put in place, he said.
The virus has dramatically changed life and devastated economies, with countries around the world closing shops and schools, and banning people from leaving their homes.
During the session, moderated by WEF managing director Adrian Monck, other participants also spoke about the changes that the pandemic have wrought.
Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling said the ride-hailing firm has had to take an expanded view of its role in society to work with governments, individuals and non-governmental organisations, as once crowded streets become empty and the income of Grab's drivers falls along with the company's revenue.
Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and chairman of Asia News Network, meanwhile, spoke about how the crisis has highlighted the importance of securing public service information, which is necessary for reasoned and rational debate on how countries can move forward. Mr Fernandez is also the editor of The Straits Times.
Another speaker, Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, the executive director of the Apec Secretariat, cited the examples of Singapore and New Zealand rallying like-minded countries to keep supply chains open, as she stressed the importance of countries working together.
Dr Kasai said governments play a central role in helping people and companies navigate the new normal, and must ensure they communicate their approach clearly.
He added that the private sector, too, must be flexible in conducting business while taking the necessary steps to reduce the risk of infections in the workplace.
"We can work together to shape a new reality with new ways of thinking, living and working. That will make us safer from Covid-19 and other threats in the future," he said.
"I know how hard governments across the regions are working to fight off the virus and the hardship it has caused to maintain societies. It's not an easy journey. But I think it's time for all of us to do our part and work together to realise a new future. A more caring, stronger, healthier society for everyone."