Who knew our 2020 would be like this?

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A longhouse in Sarawak - Photograph: wikipedia.org

Think about it: a microscopic element proved more than a match for us human beings, who thought we had everything under control. Emellia Tamoh writes.

“When the going gets tough, only the tough get going.” This saying was repeated by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in a speech recently.

We are now entering the fourth phase of the movement control order – an ongoing effort to “flatten the curve”. 

Amid this pandemic, we have experienced many things and heard many messages: wash your hands with soap, don’t touch your face, wear a face mask, stay at home, drink water and keep a safe distance from each other. These are preventive measures to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. It was hard to get by at first, but we manage somehow.

Nationwide, we face socioeconomic issues, as the market has not been able to operate at its usual capacity. New work ethics have emerged as employees work from home. Sadly, this does not apply to skilled workers who are unable to work from home. The government is providing some financial aid to workers facing financial pressure during this time.

Schools have shut down, and I can hear the excited cries of schoolchildren. However, no school does not mean no classes. Teachers and educators have got creative as they facilitate online learning on this scale for the first time. Similarly, I’ve experienced online discussions with lecturers for the first time. Homework and assignments are now being distributed online.

Social distancing has taken a toll, in every aspect of our lives. For the Iban community here in Bintulu, life in their longhouses goes on as usual. So far, there have been five positive cases in Bintulu. But thank God, none of the longhouse communities are affected by the coronavirus.

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Iban communities are close knit, even though they are usually large. One longhouse can hold 20 to 50 families, perhaps more. It would be a terrifying prospect if a longhouse resident was to be tested positive for Covid-19. The entire longhouse would be susceptible to the virus. Also, the longhouse would have many senior citizens, who have a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 and becoming severely ill.

Extra precautionary measures have been taken to protect the longhouse communities. For example, strict orders were imposed that no outsiders would be allowed to enter the longhouse. One longhouse from Sungai Gelam, Sebauh led by tuai rumah (longhouse head) Raymond Plen hoisted a poster outside the gate of their longhouse prohibiting outsiders from entering the longhouse.

Church gatherings and any ‘gotong-royong’ activities or programmes have been shelved. Recently, food aid was distributed to the local longhouses to help these communities get by during this movement control order.

Who knew our 2020 would be like this?

Before the pandemic began, the main issue that concerned many was the US-China trade war. This was an ongoing economic conflict between China and the US, which sparked widespread fear that it would hurt the global economy. Developing countries would have been at risk. In the worst case scenario, the whole world would fall into an economic crisis.

Elsewhere, Thailand had just recovered from a mass shooting that took 29 lives. India faced unrest from protests over the Citizen Amendment Act, which allows non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries to gain citizenship. Protests in Hong Kong had been simmering for months – and are still unresolved.

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In Malaysia, we had our own battles – especially the serious and sudden political change towards the end of February. The previous government collapsed and was replaced by a new one. Heated debate filled the air about how to preserve democracy in the nation.

But all these issues came to a grinding halt when the microscopic novel coronavirus emerged and spread. Almost everything collapsed, and the world economy has been hit hard.

Think about it. A microscopic element proved more than a match for us human beings. Even the US-China trade war could not produce this sort of outcome.

As the most intelligent species in the world in a globalised society, we always thought we had everything under control. We were at the peak of our technological advances. Little did we realise how vulnerable we are to threats and harm like this.

We heard of the coronavirus outbreak when news of it first emerged: it started small in Wuhan, China, about 3,204km away from Malaysia and 8,659km away from Italy. For Americans, Wuhan was on the other side of the world. Other nations were mocking China when they were under lockdown. But because we are so interconnected through air travel, the virus quickly spread to the entire world within two months.

So we should not tackle local issues and problems with a blind eye. In a globalised society, when something happens in one nation, the effects will be felt elsewhere. Other nations will invariably feel the burden and impact. Perhaps not too different from the regional haze crisis that we in Malaysia experienced last September.

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We should not be discouraged. We should reach out to each other for help and build a strong sense of solidarity across borders. Look at how China is extending help to other affected countries in fighting this pandemic.

Our fight against this virus will not end after the movement control order is lifted. In a globalised society, we need global leaders to emerge, lead and provide proper guidelines and information in a time of crisis. As Napoleon once said, “A leader is a dealer in hope”.

Emellia Tamoh is an outgoing 24-year old from Bintulu who is currently studying politics and government in a local university

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