KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 — Armoured with a mask, loaded with hand sanitizers, and perhaps with a background score of “Loving You From Afar”, we march into a fresh 365 days. The war against the virus is not over yet although the availability of vaccines gives some sense of relief. Hence, we enter 2021 with all the new norms. So, Mask on!
Why is it important?
Firstly, it might take months or even a year before 33.8 million Malaysians get vaccinated.
German company BioNTech stated that the impact of a new COVID-19 vaccine will kick in significantly over summer and life should be back to normal only by winter next year.
In Malaysia, the government expects to receive the first batch of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer in February next year, to cater mainly for the frontliners and vulnerable groups.
The government announced that it had secured an initial supply of 12.8 million doses of vaccine from Pfizer on Nov 24, for 6.4 million Malaysians or 20 per cent of the population.
The first delivery of one million doses will be made in the first quarter of next year, which will be followed by 1.7 million doses (second quarter), 5.8 million doses (third quarter) and 4.3 million doses (fourth quarter).
Malaysia is also obtaining vaccine produced by United Kingdom pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, through negotiations under the COVAX facility for another 10 per cent of the country’s population.
Secondly, while the vaccine news gives hope, it doesn’t mean we can take things for granted as a new variant of the virus is being discovered, and this means physical distancing and sanitisation remains a priority.
For instance, the new UK B117 virus strain seems to defy an existing vaccine.
Scientists opined that the new variant is more transmissible than older ones, which simply means that people must adhere to the existing precautionary measures such as social distancing and hygiene rules more seriously now than before.
This is especially so as data show that 89 per cent of COVID-19 patients in Malaysia were asymptomatic or shows only mild symptoms.
Thirdly, thousands of livelihoods and the country’s economic recovery hinges on how well the country is able to contain the virus.
A strong recovery does not only depend on the government and industry players to put in place relevant policies to boost the economy but also how the new norms are being practised.
Malaysia was among the first countries in the region to roll out a COVID-19 stimulus package totalling a whopping RM305 billion to ensure the COVID-19 risks to the economy could be addressed effectively.
The government also unveiled a historic budget and the most generous the nation has ever seen, at RM322.5 billion, aimed at cushioning the blow of COVID-19 on Malaysians and the economy at large.
Then came policies such as the National Tourism Policy 2020-2030, Finance Bill 2020 and Temporary Measures Bill for Government Financing (Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Amendment) Bill 2020.
No doubt the initiatives did alleviate the burden of households and businesses, but Malaysia is not out of the woods yet.
The Health Ministry’s projection that Malaysia will record 6,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the coming week should be a stark reminder.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had said that this was higher than the earlier forecast of 5,000 cases within a two-week period by experts from Universiti Sains Malaysia.
The spike would be due to enhanced public health intervention in the field, he had said.
No aid could come in handy if the pandemic could not be brought under control. Hence, we shall cheer in the new year with all the safety measures intact.
So, mask on. Hello, 2021 !!!