Renewed normal as the main thrust in post-pandemic culture

By Zeti Azreen Ahmad

We have been living with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) for almost two years now. The coronavirus disease or known as COVID-19 has affected over 200 million people worldwide and more than four million have succumbed to the disease.

Malaysia is among the many countries that has been badly affected by the pandemic. Despite several rounds of lockdowns imposed by the government since March last year, the number of people infected by COVID-19 had surpassed two million nationwide. However, since early October this year the rate of infections has begun to slow down and more than 90 percent of adult population has been fully vaccinated.

As a result, the government has lifted several restrictions such as interstate, domestic and international travels for those who have completed two doses of vaccination. More economic sectors have also been reopened allowing business, educational and social activities to resume operation.

Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that SARS-CoV-2 virus will continue to stay, which also means the possibility for future outbreak and viral transmission may occur at any time. Despite getting complete vaccination, people can still be infected as the virus mutates into different variants.

The emergence of variants of concern such as the Delta variant that is highly transmissible and contagious has increased infectivity in a short period of time. As the virus cannot be totally eliminated, a few countries have started preparing to treat COVID-19 as an endemic, which means the virus will not disappear but continues to exist and is prone to infect anyone particularly the vulnerable.

However, at the endemic stage, the number of infectivity should be manageable and not overwhelming the public healthcare. Hence, this calls for responsible acts from every member of the community to take the matter seriously.

At this stage, we are all responsible to protect ourselves and others, and subsequently to contain the surge of infectivity. We have an obligation to keep ourselves protected from the virus by adhering to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the authority. Furthermore, having adequate knowledge about the disease – how it spreads, how to mitigate infection, and what to do if infected – is central.

Information about the disease would empower us to make informed decisions that eventually help to balance our lives and livelihoods in the state of the endemic.  The new normal is often touted as a strategy to continue living with the virus. In retrospect, the new normal requires us to uphold the values and lifestyles that are supposed to be part of our life.

IIUM Rector, Prof. Emeritus Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, recently coined the term “the renewed norms” which he referred to the values and lifestyles that we have taken for granted. The word “renewed” means to begin doing something again after having stopped for a period of time.

The emergence of SAR-CoV2 virus has called for immediate attention to cleanliness as an effective intervention to protect oneself from the coronavirus disease. Cleanliness is the basic principles of a healthy life. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the global community, regardless of age group, once again learned the value of washing hands with water and soap frequently, and to observe personal hygiene to protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting the virus.

The science explained that COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets that may land on any surface. Touching the affected surfaces may increase exposure to the virus as we are most likely to touch our face and mouth prior to washing our hands. In Islam, cleanliness is part of faith and it encompassed beyond physical that includes purification of the heart and the soul of everyone. 

The pandemic has made us realised the importance of being mindful of our actions as they have implications to ourselves and to others. As more restrictions are being lifted, we ought to control ourselves and not to slack off. For example, failing to wear face-mask when we are in a public place may expose us to the virus and subsequently put others who are closed to us in danger.

Taking a proactive action by performing self-quarantine when exposed to COVID-19 patient is another responsible act to contain the spread of the virus to others. All these examples are not merely about adhering to the SOPs, but responsible actions that we should undertake with full integrity that will keep us and others safe from the virus.  

The pandemic has hit some quarters hard. In Malaysia, nearly 100,000 have lost their jobs, many have also lost their loved ones due to the disease. In this trying time, providing support and care should not be the responsibility of the government alone. A strong community support is essential to ensure that those affected by the pandemic are being addressed.

Subsequently, it is important to reach out to our neighbours and friends who are in dire need for assistance. Such action not only alleviate the suffering of others, but will enhance solidarity among us during this critical time. The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of neighbourliness spirit that has gradually disappeared in our society. Thus, renewing this long-lost bonding is crucial.    

As such, we must now reflect on the values that we may have abandoned that led us into this pandemic-mess. It is time to bring back these values that we once embraced and relearn to make them as part of our life again to continue to live with the invisible enemy. ***

(Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zeti Azreen Ahmad is Head of Department of Communication, KIRKHS)

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