THE Covid-19 virus is still ravaging the world since its first outbreak in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019. Many countries are still reporting record high daily infections as well as deaths. To make matters worse, the virus has mutated into several variants such as Delta and Lambda, with the latest variant identified as Mu.

New Zealand, with no infections recorded for about six months, recently went into an immediate nationwide lockdown after seeing its first case of locally transmitted Covid-19, which is suspected to be the Delta variant. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for every corner of the world, at least not yet.

About two weeks ago, the Malaysian Higher Education Ministry (MoHE) announced that they planned to get students back to campus in October. This amidst daily infected cases still close to 20,000, despite a decrease in Selangor. Is MoHE rushing to reopen campuses?

What proper planning has been carried out to get students, lecturers and staff to return to campus safely? During the pandemic and movement control order, most private universities suffered financially. Many staff, including lecturers and security guards, were retrenched to save cost. Who will be available now to monitor the situation in every university?

Lecturers and staff have a lot on their plates, without having to take on additional tasks. Besides, will they be properly trained in such a short time to handle, say, a new cluster of outbreaks on campus?

What about the government training some officers to help out campuses to enforce standard operating procedures (SOP)? These government officers should also establish proper protocols for managing anyone who wants to enter a campus but still partially vaccinated.

Meanwhile, let us not forget that fully vaccinated individuals are not invincible. The vaccination gives them a better chance of fighting the virus or reducing hospitalisation, not a guarantee they would not get reinfected.

Some fully vaccinated people are already flaunting the SOP and rules. There have been multiple cases detected with the highly infectious Delta variant here in Malaysia. The Mu variant that appears resistant to vaccines is already in Japan and South Korea. Needless to say, it will only be a matter of time before it reaches our shores if we are not careful.

There are also talks about Covid-19 being endemic as there is no way to get rid of it entirely. Here, we need to look back at history during the Black Death and Spanish Flu, in order to learn from them. Both illnesses killed more than one hundred million people, but they had one thing in common: They were defeated with better sanitation, personal hygiene such as washing hands with soap and medical practices, as well as quarantine.

Our new normal living with Covid-19 as an endemic should involve regular hand sanitation, constant body temperature scanning and more stringent hygiene practices. Perhaps, we may even need to normalise social distancing of at least one metre, or three feet.

The problem is, it is premature to claim that Malaysia is out of the pandemic mode when the country still remains in the world’s top 10 for new daily Covid-19 cases. On Sept 11, Malaysia recorded 19,550 new daily cases, with a record high of 592 deaths. According to Worldometer’s Covid-19 tracking, that placed Malaysia in fifth place globally in terms of new Covid-19 cases.

Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci said: “Right now, we’re still in pandemic mode (in the US) because we have 160,000 new infections a day”. He stated that the US would feel more comfortable when the daily number of new infections goes down to 10,000, against a US population of 330 million.

In Malaysia, Iskandar Puteri MP Lim Kit Siang said: “For Malaysia, we cannot claim that the pandemic has ended unless we are having 1,000 cases or less a day” as our population is 10 times smaller than that in the US.

Furthermore, is it fair and legal to compel fully vaccinated students to report to campus for face-to-face classes while non-vaccinated students remain home for online classes? Are our varsities fully ready to embark on it?

Let us say there is a test to be given. What if a fully vaccinated student insists on staying home to take the test like those not vaccinated? Is it legal to deny them of it?

October is only about two weeks away. If we are to go ahead with reopening campuses by then, stringent measures should be planned out carefully now. Are we there yet?

And part of the discussion should seriously consider this: Can we declare that Malaysia is now in the endemic stage?

While the daily positive Covid-19 cases in Selangor appear to have slowed, or come down, some states have seen an increase, especially Sarawak and Johor. Does it make sense to say Selangor is in the endemic
stage while other states are still in the pandemic stage?

Around 20,000 new cases daily are certainly not normal, but the concern is that will its regularity lull Malaysians back to our infamous complacent or “tidak apa” attitude?

Jonathan Tan Wei Kit is studying Bachelor of Communication at BERJAYA University College. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com