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6:25pm 29/04/2022
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Living with the virus does not denote giving up on it
By:Sin Chew Daily

We used to fumble, lose our ways, hesitate and lack confidence because we were then ignorant, panicky, clueless and scrambling to adapt to the unexpected changes. But along the way we never “lay flat” or gave up. We kept making modifications to keep up with the times and strengthening our willpower to confront the virus.

Following the announcement by the government to further relax antivirus measures with effect from May 1, it means we are almost back to our pre-pandemic ways of life. With the only exception of mandatory mask-wearing at indoor venues and under specific conditions, all other restrictions have been basically lifted.

Malaysians can soon choose whether to put on face masks at open outdoor spaces, a decision that has become the talk of the town of late. However, judging from public responses on social media soon after the health ministry’s announcement, we can deduce that most Malaysians will continue to put on their masks, as they concur that transitioning to the endemic phase of the coronavirus does not mean the virus has vanished altogether, and we still have the obligation to adopt all the necessary precautions to take care not only of ourselves but also people around us.

In the meantime, many local doctors have also advised the public to seriously evaluate the risks before making the decision not to put on face masks outdoors. If they think the risks are high, or they belong to the high-risk groups, or they have high-risk individuals such as old parents or kids at home, then they had better put on their masks at all times and avoid crowded places.

Many people finally manage to take a sigh of relief after learning about the lifting of antivirus restrictions for the simple reasons the country boasts exceptionally high vaccination rate and the fact an overwhelming majority of new cases are either asymptomatic or with very mild symptoms.

Having been bound by the restrictions for over two years, we can finally afford a little more freedom now. For instance, we no longer need to scan MySejahtera to check in a place. What worries us is whether the pandemic will stage a comeback now that the 1-meter social distancing rule is also abolished.

While on the surface the “living with the virus” policy will require members of the public to take proper care of themselves on their own initiative, in reality it is a major test of our civic consciousness.

For the sake of the common interests of our society, we as citizens have to shoulder some specific responsibilities.

At the height of the pandemic, each and every one of us had the obligation to adhere to the government rules to preserve public health and safety. And now that we have transitioned to the endemic phase, we must assess ourselves where and when to do or not to do something. Whether the virus will come back depends a lot on our self-consciousness.

We used to think it inconceivable to live with the virus, and that zero tolerance was the only workable strategy to emancipate us from the menace of the virus. However, after these two years, we have come to realize that living with the virus is actually a sustainable strategy.

So long as we do our parts observing good living habits and maintaining a clean environment, not to downplay the threats of the virus and know how to deal with it, we can still have relatively free and comfortable lives.

A recent UCSI poll shows that Malaysians are generally upbeat about transitioning to the endemic phase of COVID-19, with 85% of respondents saying this is the way forward and only 15% objecting to such notion. The interviewees are also highly receptive to adapting themselves to various activities such as physical workplace and classes, social activities and restaurant dining, among others.

The survey outcome could be interpreted as Malaysians’ overall readiness to live with the virus for the sake of the economy and restoring our normal lifestyles, provided that the government’s decision conforms to science, and that we are fully prepared for it and aware of the threats present.

Nonetheless, we need to bear in mind what lessons we have picked up all this while and how we are going to tackle any recurring circumstances.

We used to fumble, lose our ways, hesitate and lack confidence because we were then ignorant, panicky, clueless and scrambling to adapt to the unexpected changes. But along the way we never “lay flat” ( 躺平, surrendered ourselves or gave up). We kept making modifications to keep up with the times and strengthening our willpower to confront the virus.

Along the way there have been times when the situation was well beyond our control, such as lack of the resources and ability to develop our own vaccines, and possible mutation of the virus.

That said, a reason why we have had a rollercoaster type of outbreak is unquestionably politics.

Looking back at things, if not for the absurdity of Malaysian politics, we could have averted many of the unfortunate events and human miseries we were forced to go through.

Of course, we should also count our blessing that eventually those in power have put the right persons on the right jobs and aptly deployed our resources culminating in the reopening of our borders and drastic relaxation of our antivirus restrictions.

Both April 1 and May 1, 2022 are crucial watersheds in the country’s war against the virus. While we have managed to reclaim our freedom, that does not mean we are no longer susceptible to the virus’ intimidation.

We must learn to make the best decisions at different times and places, just as the many rules we have to follow when we are driving on the road, where there could be  unanticipated dangers and situations awaiting us. We must know how to assess the risks, be utterly clear about the responsibility of a road user in a bid to avert a possible mishap, for ourselves and for others.

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