The price of freedom is eternal vigilance

The 4th cycle of the MCO has begun and will last till almost mid-month.

The number of new Covid-19 cases continues to come down and for the past couple of days, it has been in the double digits. The government has begun to allow more employees from specific sectors to return to work. There is a sense of relief in the air. People are getting more restless. Both the mainstream and social media are filled with comments that the worst is over, and it’s time to start getting the economy back into gear.

I’m so sorry. This, unfortunately, is not one of those pieces about pink unicorns, rainbows and the idea that we are done with Covid-19 and “everything’s gonna be alright”. This is a piece to allow you to adjust your expectations. It aims to tell you the stark truth about the long, painful road to recovery.

Make no mistake about it. Covid-19 is the world war of our generation. The devastation it has wreaked on our way of life will leave an indelible scar for years to come. Yet, it’s not only the deaths and destruction that Covid-19 will leave behind that will impact us. It’s the looming spectre of it that continues to hang over our heads that will be the
greatest nightmare we will face.

Not many of us recall the devastation of the bombing of Germany, Britain or other countries during World War II. However, a search on YouTube will allow you to understand how horrific things were. The hundreds of thousands of tonnes of bombs that were dropped onto these countries by the enemies destroyed pretty much everything in a vortex of firestorms that left death and destruction in their wake.

But as bad as the bombs were, they were nothing compared to what they left behind. Tonnes of unexploded bombs, many of which landed and sat quietly underneath homes or gardens for years, would suddenly explode and people would die or get injured.

Let me put this into perspective: World War II ended in 1945, yet more than 70 years later, there are incidents where unexploded bombs are found in Germany, forcing evacuations and distressing thousands.

Why am I drawing a comparison to this? The Covid-19 transmissions seem to have receded somewhat and it seems that we have overcome the disease in its present wave. But remember, data is showing us that close to a quarter of those with Covid-19 are asymptomatic.

These are people without symptoms, walking around and passing the disease to others. It is inevitable, then, that there are going to be small clusters of Covid-19 popping up from time to time in Malaysia, just like the old, unexploded bombs dropped during World War II. That’s something we need to understand, and be prepared for.

In case it is a little unclear, let me establish my stand. I totally understand that we need to end the lockdown at some point. The economic effects of this are as devastating on many of us in Malaysia just as if a bomb fell on our houses.

However, we cannot ignore the “unexploded bombs”, or the asymptomatic ones amid us who are unknowingly spreading the disease (due to no fault of their own, most likely).

Well, what can we do? Let me tell you a little tale of another neighbour of ours, Cambodia. The war that ravaged their country left thousands dead, but also another nightmare in terms of the thousands of landmines that were strewn everywhere throughout the country, even sometimes in the middle of people’s houses.

What did they do? Cambodians, even the youngest of children, modified their societal behaviour. They learnt how to identify possible mines, what they looked like, and how to avoid them. In short, they learnt to modify their daily behaviour based on this risk.

That’s what we need to do, too. Another colleague, Dr Amar Singh HSS, has pointed out that one of the critical things we need to do as a community as we come out of the lockdown is to fully adopt the necessary preventive measures such as social distancing, wearing masks (if and when necessary) and practising good hand hygiene, among others.

Social media is filled with wish lists of what people want to do the moment the lockdown is lifted. That is the concern which I’m voicing out. Lifting or easing the lockdown does not mean that it is time to “parrtaayyy” and go back to normal. Unfortunately, that’s not what it is going to be. We need to understand that and adjust our expectations.

Returning to work, school and other daily activities is a necessity for our society to survive. But as we go back to these activities, we need to remain careful and continue to be so.

This needs to be the “new normal”. This is not the government’s job. Neither is it the health ministry’s. It’s ours.

Always risk assess. Ask yourself these questions:

* By doing this activity, am I putting myself at risk of getting Covid-19?
* If I am, is this activity even necessary?
* If it is necessary, is there any way that I can keep safe?

This thought process needs to constantly run in your mind for everything, even something as simple as going to buy an item from the supermarket.

There is a saying that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The price of us getting our freedom from the lockdown is to be careful, and staying careful at all times.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.