Doing our part to help the country reopen

MARCH 9 — Since last March, I’ve written extensively on the need for caution — even hyper-caution — when it comes to avoiding being infected with Covid-19. 

I was among the first to propose and defend the closure of schools and malls; I also spoke out against using “flu analogies” to evaluate this pandemic. 

I don’t regret putting those ideas forward as we were facing something entirely new, information was scarce, SOPs were practically non-existent and public health had to be prioritised beyond anything else.

However, after almost a year of all kinds of movement restriction, with all the havoc inflicted on our economy and many livelihoods gone, I’m less sure that 100 per cent avoidance is the key. 

By all means please take care of your health and safety as you best see fit, but if early last year (and even today) we had to think and work as a nation to keep the pandemic in check, today it’s become important to think and work collectively in the other direction i.e. to help everyone get back on their feet.

While, granted, the daily case numbers remain frustratingly high, Malaysians have had almost a year to get into the habit of mask-wearing, hand-washing, app-scanning and what-not. 

A woman is seen taking a walk at the Sri Rampai Lake Park in Kuala Lumpur February 24, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
A woman is seen taking a walk at the Sri Rampai Lake Park in Kuala Lumpur February 24, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

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For many of us, it’s almost become second-nature; some of us even welcome it when strangers remind us to follow SOPs.

This — plus the fact that vaccination is being rolled out — is one reason why I think we need to now whole-heartedly encourage friends to send their kids back to school, to eat out, to go shopping, to (even) enjoy staycations if they can afford to and, of course, to catch some great movies on the big screen.

On cinemas and schools

Did any of you visit the cinema after the lockdown ended last year in June? I recall going three times (one for Mulan, another for Tenet and I can’t recall the last one). 

On all three occasions, it was practically empty. There couldn’t have been more than 10 people in the hall.

Ironically, this is also why I believe that going back to the cinema probably ranks as among the safest public things we can do. The people-density is so low, the deep-cleaning so extensive such that, coupled with the distancing between seats, if you’re wearing a mask the chances of getting the virus is as low as it can get.

And how long has it been since your family enjoyed a movie outing together? Plus, rumour has it that Raya & the Last Dragon will absolutely fill your soul with cheer and joy. 

Even better, the more people go, the more cheer and joy cinema operators and staff will get. For them, it’s been mainly gloom these past 10 months or so.

Regarding schools, yes it is very unfortunate that some schools (most recently in Klang) may have to close (temporarily) because one or two kids got infected. And if your kids have any respiratory issues my most urgent advice would be to remain hyper-cautious and keep them away from public areas for as long as possible.

Having said that, I welcome the opening of schools not only for "educational" reasons but because of how much our school-bus operators, canteen operators, uniform- and shoe-sellers, janitors and other school workers need it. 

There are folks among this group who have not had a steady income for close to a year.

As a nation there simply has to be a balance between "flattening the curve" and helping these folks put food on the table. If this means the curve-flattening requires more time, then let it be. 

Right now, many Malaysians need the nation to re-open just as urgently as the need to control those daily case numbers.

I don’t write the above paragraphs flippantly. I’m aware people will continue to get infected and the fatality rate won’t be zero anytime soon.

Nevertheless, I think after a year of economic destruction (which results in suffering as well) the tide simply must be turned back. Let’s remain vigilant in keeping the masks on but let’s be similarly determined to restore the country’s fortunes (the good news is that if last weekend’s traffic along the Federal Highway is any indication, most Malaysians probably agree with me).

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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