‘Living with the virus’ responsibly

DOES “living with the virus” mean that we co-exist with the ruthless coronavirus that crossed borders illegally, terrorised us and brought the world to its knees? Are we also supposed to live with its emerging new virus mutations?

There is a greater fear of the Delta variant, which spreads faster, more effectively and may even cause a contagious “breakthrough infection” in vaccinated people, and children who are too young to be vaccinated.

Against backdrop of such a scenario of concern, how are we going to transit from the pandemic to an endemic stage, when both share such an intimate relationship?

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said, “Malaysia is expected to move from the pandemic into the endemic phase by the end of October, but the community has to accept the fact that we have to “live with the virus”.

The transition is dependent on many factors, including hospital capacity, intensive care unit utilisation, death rates and vaccine effectiveness.

It is a powerful and confident message. We must unscramble this sentence to understand the context of our role in this move. So far, the public has trust in Khairy due to his vaccination success.

While 15% of the global population has been fully vaccinated, Malaysia would have vaccinated 80% of the adult population by end of September. We are ahead of our own schedule with daily doses as high as 500,000 on some days.

The Economist estimates that developing countries now account for more than 85% of global pandemic deaths, and the actual Covid-19 deaths worldwide to be 15.2 million, rather than the official 4.6 million.

We are far ahead in world records of vaccine equity and have hunted down hidden secret clusters of undocumented and foreign migrant workers, who are now vaccinated.

As more people gain some immunity through vaccination - the coronavirus will transcend to a path to endemicity, and how we survive will depend on our own precautions to live with the virus.

Economic expert Prof Dr Jomo Sundaram said, “Big companies have a strong commercial interest in selling boosters, rather than ending the epidemic.

“Western countries’ refusal to enable vaccination of the poor in the world means continuing mutations, bringing more dangerous variants, which will threaten all.

“We must prepare to live with it, or risk more tragedy and disruption. While protection, mainly via vaccination, is necessary, it does not offer us sufficient protection without major behavioural and other changes.”

The message is being pushed down our throat. It is up to us! We are the ones who manage our mobilities, assess and make our own decisions. Lucky for us, we are not going in totally blind. We have seen the spirals with misbehaviour.

The national restrictions are hurting the breadwinner who has to go out to work to support his family with dignity instead of depending on handouts. While working, he has to be careful not to take the virus home with him and infect his parents and grandparents.

As for school children, parents need to understand the vulnerability of their unvaccinated schoolchildren, and monitor the situation. There is insufficient research done on children’s risk, so care and protection has to be calculated on each child’s data.

The vaccination drive also ensured all teachers were vaccinated. There are some mitigation plans for schools standard operating procedures, and also vaccination for schoolchildren may become possible even earlier than anticipated.

The good news is that we now have our own rapid test kit. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that detect the virus’s presence in a nasal swab or saliva sample takes time, is expensive and has to be done professionally.

Dr Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard Public Health said, “The rapid home tests, which deliver much faster results, are cheaper and can be done at home. The test does not care about your symptoms, it cares about how much of the virus you have.”

Another move forward is the Health Ministry’s transparent website the covidnow.moh.gov.my, which gives daily simplified data on Covid-19 cases, status of vaccination and the type of vaccine. It is a transparent indicator to guide us on how to behave according to the data and information given.

Nothing can be worse than a return to normalcy, with spiking cases and reversing back to lockdowns. Normalcy may vary in each person’s behaviour depending on their family’s vulnerability. We cannot let our guard down and reset the button to a pre Covid-normalcy.

The greatest fear is that Covid-19 as endemic can cause complacency among the population, even in the best of circumstances. Figure out what constitutes safety, and act accordingly.

If we have to move into a more careful society, we need a more cautious society and one that understands the science and the process, and have learned from the traumas of the pandemic.

Khairy’s message is reflected in the course of his actions, that only means one thing – there is now a clear light at the end of the tunnel over the pandemic, but care still has to be taken by the public.

Finally, a personal message to all parents about children catching up on lost time, be assured that no other child has secretly gone to a secret school to be ahead of your children. Every parent and child is in the
same position.

Vasanthi Ramachandran is an author, brand strategist and runs Helping Hands.
Comments: letters@thesundaily.com.