Will our new normal be a safe normal for everyone?

SEPTEMBER 8 — I got my hair cut on Monday. 

It was an afterthought; being in the area for a dental appointment, it made sense to stop by the hairdresser.

There was fear and maybe a little guilt; checking up on my aching teeth was necessary, but a haircut was not. 

When I arrived in the vicinity of my neighbourhood mall and found it quieter than it had ever been, once full parking bays almost empty, eateries with “take out only” signs and not even a sign of a stray dog or cat, there was some miserable (and again, guilty) relief.

After seeing videos of French policemen chasing down unvaccinated shoppers for flouting “no jab, no entry” rules at malls, I wondered how the French would perceive us — how most of us willingly scan our apps and foreheads without argument.

Throughout my haircut, my mask was on though the shield had to come off. 

The hairdressers were all masked and sporting shields, with the open layout of the salon being a bit of a comfort. 

Few places understand the importance of ventilation as a hair salon, with the fumes of bleach and dye, the scented perfumes and sprays all needing to be taken into account.

As I left, I noticed a patron in a wheelchair; I suppose, in Malaysia, he might be safer than in the US, which was ironic considering the stockpiles of vaccines there.

The aversion to masks and the callous disregard for the safety of high-risk groups is something particularly galling to witness in Western countries.

I have a small stockpile of KF94 masks and two high-grade face shields, while my housemate who is back in the house after some time caring for an immunocompromised relative wears masks indoors.

A minor inconvenience that helps keep people safe — what is so bad about that, really?

My friends who run food businesses are cautiously opening for dine-ins and I hope soon the government rescinds the temperature reading requirement because they are not good Covid-19 barometers.

I stopped by the supermarket too and there was a glad relief at the variety and choices, when since the MCO started, I’d relied on either a friend adding my list to her grocery runs, Grab’s limited choices or online groceries that always seemed to run out of what I wanted most.

Yet how easy will it be to keep the economy alive, without risking actual lives?

To live with the pandemic means adjusting to this new reality until the day the virus finally mutates into a less lethal form but that will take years and a lot more vaccinations.

We have gotten past the point where lockdowns will do anything but harm and yet there is too much push to “go back to normal.”

Normal isn’t safe; normal needs to be left in the past for now and we still need to evolve.

The 9-to-5 full occupancy office needs to die. Time wasting in-person long meetings and brainstorming sessions need to be declared archaic.

What this pandemic should have done was give impetus to a massive overhaul to how we live and work, and envision a world made far more accessible now that no one needs to go into the office all the time.

And yet, we still have people wanting to rewind back to 2019, the disabled and immunocompromised be damned.

No masks, everyone on the road, everyone in the office, let us pretend the pandemic changed nothing.

The pandemic should have changed everything.

Give us the new world order that should have made the abled realise how much better work and life could be if we helped everyone, and made everything accessible.

Instead we have seen just how much the monied and powerful would trade lives for profit and how the rich countries would hoard resources and vaccines without even a pretence of guilt.

A sign requiring dine-in patrons to show their vaccination certificate Lomaq Coffee, Seberang Jaya, August 9, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A sign requiring dine-in patrons to show their vaccination certificate Lomaq Coffee, Seberang Jaya, August 9, 2021. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

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What we should be doing for now is simply this: stay masked, stay safe and stay angry. Masks shouldn’t silence us from speaking up and demanding a better deal than what we’re getting.

The right to live should be inalienable and not determined by status or wealth and yet here we are, in 2021, and that is not the case.

Life shouldn’t be about fate, destiny or the portents from dead stars but choices.

Perhaps this time people will realise that political choices can truly mean the difference between life and death. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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