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Malaysia’s best weapon against catastrophe is ‘timely information’

04 Feb 2020 / 09:52 H.

IT’S chilling and it reminds me of sci-fi movies we might have seen where towns are abandoned after invasions and attacks of various kinds from aliens and beasts to insects and diseases. Closest to what we might have watched is the movie Contagion, which was released nine years ago.

In the movie, a character returns from an overseas work assignment and dies from what appears to be a simple flu or some other type of infection not known at that time. Her young son dies later the same day. Her husband escapes with immunity.

The deadly virus begins to spread and infection sets in. Experts at the Centres for Disease Control get down to work and several days pass before anyone realises the severity of the infection.

The plot grapples with the urgent need to identify the virus, followed by finding the means to fight the infection. This will take several months and, in the meantime, the disease spreads to millions worldwide. Order begins to break down and nations, states and people go on a panic binge.

The above is only a ghastly imagination of a movie director but what is plaguing us is real. It feels like a scene from a horror-movie to see people walking around in face masks, looking like zombies.

My heart goes out to the millions in towns which have been locked down to contain the virus from spreading. What more, it was the most important festival for the Chinese and people were stranded with no means of transport or no border access.

What a catastrophe! At the time of writing, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared a global health emergency and people in big numbers are either being evacuated or quarantined to contain the spread.

I am told a flight full of Indian nationals evacuated from Wuhan by charter flights will be landing, with all the passengers taken away to an army base to be quarantined for weeks before they can be declared safe and allowed to meet family and friends. The trauma to the passengers is unimaginable.

Now, if this is not a warning that we have to do a lot more than treat it as a regular crisis, let’s think again. The Malaysian government took some days before deciding to curtail tourist arrivals and, much to the chagrin of fellow Malaysians, the tourism minister, despite the seriousness of the situation, was still making statements about meeting tourist arrival KPIs.

It will cost us much more to repair the damage if the virus arrived on our shores in a big way. All the big bucks from tourist arrivals will not be enough to cover the medical cost as well as other multipliers.

A cursory look at some of the pandemics that give us shocking numbers should give us enough reasons for worry and concern.

Pandemics related to influenza have occurred more than once. In 1918, some 40-50 million people were killed and in 1957, the Asian influenza wiped 2 million people off the face of earth.

And we have the Hong Kong influenza which saw 1 million fatalities in 1968. These are numbers available on many sites with the statistics differing, but the point of the matter is coronavirus (2019-nCoV) can be deadly and has the potential to cripple a country.

Meanwhile, we have been doing not too well either from even before with the Influenza A scare impeding and disrupting our otherwise peaceful co-existence.

Even before the coronavirus scare, masked men, women and children were going about their daily lives.

Of course, it isn’t as deadly but the temporary setbacks were too much, especially for the old and infirm. I remember checking for the vaccination but to no avail and the government could not get the vaccination into the country on time.

There isn’t much talk of this lately with the coronavirus in the limelight.

Despite assurances from the health minister that we are prepared for any eventuality related to the coronavirus, are we?

How did the coronavirus make its way into our lives? There are many theories making its rounds and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has its hands full nabbing rumour mongering netizens. How will one ascertain what is the truth and what isn’t? The relevant ministries should perhaps release regular statements to arrest misinformation from being circulated.

Meanwhile, has insatiability for exoticism got anything to do with the advent of the coronavirus?

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