Life after coronavirus: How the times have changed!

Reconvene Parliament and set up a non-partisan competent taskforce of qualified individuals to fight this virus

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Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

– Bob Dylan

In our troubled times, we could be forgiven for imagining apocalyptic scenarios like those depicted in the movies. The image of a zombie-like future of the world has periodically crossed my mind, but this is of course an extreme scenario.

Even so, a future when homo sapiens will have to deal continually with waves of persistent pandemics is already in the offing. Who knows whether we will be able to cope better in the future than how we are doing now with Covid-19. We are not doing too great today!

It wasn’t long ago when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) epidemic swept across many regions. The images of doctors and nurses dying in short order in 2003 by merely contracting Sars was horrifying. Thankfully, Sars came and went in eight months with only 774 fatalities.

Fast forward to December 2019, and the world was reeling from the outbreak of Sars’ not-too-distant cousin Covid-19. After 17 months, the pandemic doesn’t look like abating even after a toll of 3.5 million deaths.

If we give our imagination free rein, it won’t be difficult to foresee a future of ‘bubble communities’ like the one depicted in the sci-fi movie Elysium.

Bubble seems to be the right metaphor to use for Covid scenarios. There has been ongoing talk and even some implementation of “travel bubbles” or travel corridors between countries relatively free of the virus. In time to come, could there be global zones which could be literally bubbled up, impenetrable to outsiders?

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In Elysium, by 2154, the world would be overpopulated, with most people being poor. Only the very wealthy would be able to live in a utopian habitat, which orbits around the Earth, free of strife and disease.

The film depicts the familiar struggle and quest of the excluded masses seeking all ways and means to reach this utopian paradise but usually to no avail.

The movie has a sanguine ending, when a rebellion finally leads to the rebooting of Elysium’s nuclear core to allow for all to become Elysian citizens.

However, this deus ex machina (unexpected turn of events) doesn’t really resolve the basic question of how everyone on Earth could ever hope to occupy Elysium, unless, in a movie sequel, we see the multiplication of other orbiting utopian bubbles.

Elysium does in a manner depict humanity’s underlying problem today. In the current pandemic, richer countries are vaccinating their people in far greater numbers than those in poorer countries. Could we soon see safe zones or bubbles predominantly in the wealthier sectors of the world, where citizens are more likely to enjoy a relatively pandemic-free environment?

In contrast, will there not be dangerous zones of poor people, where pandemics would abound in unmanageable and dire conditions. Naturally, the implementation of draconian laws would automatically bar those from pandemic-mired zones from entering pandemic-free bubbles. Trump’s infamous wall actually conjures such an image!

As for Malaysia, now trapped in a middle-income bubble, when will the pandemic dissipate for its people to return to their lives and jobs? When will normalcy be restored for regular livelihoods to be guaranteed?

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The prime minister has announced a full lockdown for the country for two weeks from 1 June. Fresh cases have soared to a new high of 9,020 today, with 2,650 deaths so far.

Earlier, the director general of health dubbed the situation as a “vertical surge” with the prospect of worse to come, especially now with the emergence of more virulent variants such as B1351 and B1617.

Meanwhile, Malaysia lags in its vaccination programme. Its vaccination rate of 3.3% for fully vaccinated adults is woefully low and smacks of sheer government incompetency.

Compare this miserable rate to that of the UK at 36.1% and Singapore at 28.3%, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures. It would be too tedious to outline the government’s missteps in managing the pandemic since this third wave began.

And so the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on everyday lives, perhaps permanently changing our livelihoods and lifestyles.

Amazingly, the prime minister, before he announced the full lockdown, practically admitted he was powerless to stem the pandemic, even if he had a budget of half a trillion ringgit! “We can close (all economic sectors), but when we reopen, the system may collapse because we have to reopen i-sinar, provide Prihatin aid, moratoriums and others,” he said. “Can the government afford this? Can, but not as much. I don’t want to see my people losing their lives because of my complacency or theirs. I also do not want our economy to collapse.”

Dear Prime Minister, I am glad you imposed a full lockdown, but now is the time for thinking clearly and implementing more effective policies.

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Reconvene Parliament and set up a non-partisan competent taskforce of able and qualified individuals to fight this virus.

Here are some ideas for your government:

  • Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!
  • Increase the number of ICU units in all available facilities
  • Upgrade hospitals, clinics and mobile health facilities
  • Prepare citizens for healthier lifestyles and provide healthcare for all
  • Ensure that foreign labour is not excluded from health policies
  • Craft better preventive policies to deal with future epidemics and pandemics

Apart from what countries like Malaysia need to do, the pandemic calls for urgent changes to global governance, especially for more effective international health regulations.

The WHO should be given full responsibility, capacity and financing to play its crucial global role in preventing and easing pandemics today and in the future. Failing this, there is no telling what sort of dark and dire future our next generations will encounter in our health-endangered planet.

Johan Saravanamuttu
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
29 May 2021
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