By Datuk Mohammad Medan Abdullah
The Covid-19 pandemic that is currently raging across the world has brought into sharp focus the subject of personal and public hygiene.
The spotlight on personal and public hygiene is important and timely because it helps in reducing and mitigating the transmission of all pathogen borne diseases, not just Covid-19.
While the effort to produce an effective medication or reliable vaccine is still evolving in the ongoing efforts to eradicate the virus, it is important to ensure that effective sanitisation of living spaces, work places and hospitals are undertaken.
One can sense that this angle is being addressed but the timing and frequency of application of sanitisation and the products used raise questions in the minds of interested observers. And at the same time, one can guess that the commonly available sanitation products in the market would have gained huge demand in view of the current pandemic.
It is important to ponder upon the quality and efficacy of sanitisation materials being used and measured against the factors of cost, efficacy and timing of application of the sanitisation, to ensure that things are done on a proactive and preventative mode as opposed to just reactive, after the fact actions.
Covid-19 has exposed many conflicting priorities and engendered different behaviours and discussions. The most pertinent one highlighted here is the desire to return to business and life as usual (the old norm) and the search for quick solutions.
The return to the old norm may still be far away because we have to be mentally prepared for several strains that are in or imported into Malaysia that could mutate and become a super strain. Our scientists and health officials are overworked — fighting a battle that is never ending and our hearts go out to them. It would not be an understatement to say that we may need to be mentally prepared for Covid-19 and its mutation to become an endemic, staying with us for a long time.
Prepare for endemic
Accepting the supposition that Covid-19 may become an endemic is something that we need to be prepared for, even as we fight the current war against the pandemic. It is understood that other countries such as Singapore are preparing for the same. Similarly, we in Malaysia need to be prepared as well and to ensure that our national economy gets back on track as soon as possible and visitors return to Malaysia, even when the virus is not fully eliminated.
We have ties that strongly binds us with neighbours such as Singapore that transcend governments. We have people who are related to each other across the tiny strait that separates us. Singaporeans drive to Malaysia during the holidays, spending time with families and cousins growing up together meeting during the holidays. Our people are working in places such as Singapore who return over Chinese New Year or commuting daily and living in Johor, bringing in hard currency.
Our population working and living in towns and cities need to return to their hometowns for the festive seasons and the annual migrations need to be well managed. The pandemic has demonstrated the massive disruptions and repercussions that can happen in our daily lives.
We would need to look at our businesses with investors coming to Malaysia and Malaysians investing overseas, where the process has stalled. We would also need to look at the businesses that make their annual income during the festive seasons. Those have been greatly affected too. The government has been fogging sanitisers as a measure of sanitisation and trying to make a return to the old norm.
Efforts to roll our vaccinations are being undertaken at the moment, which are important but not the full solution. This is amply demonstrated in the case of Singapore which have high vaccination rates and having imposed enhanced measures, all of which proved to be not fully effective.
The question arises then as to how we could act proactively to address all these concerns and get the economy back on track. We have to spend on quality initiatives to create a multiplier effect. We must create living spaces where people feel safe and happy to come out again to work and create useful activities.
In the case of Bintulu Port, it undertook a comprehensive programme to sanitise all work areas and high-touch spaces on the onset of the pandemic in early 2020. As early as February 2020, focus on creating a safe workspace was a key strategy to ensure zero or minimal disruption to operations. For 2020, Bintulu Port Group did not suffer any downtime or disruptions to the port operations.
For this purpose, a conscious decision was made to utilise a quality product which was not only locally manufactured but provided sanitisation coating that lasts for 12 months. The product was lab tested to be effective against Covid-19 virus by TIDREC@UM (Biosafety Level 3 Lab at University Malaya). Our employees need the assurance that they are working in a safe environment where we target zero infections in the workplace The Antimicrobial Coating workspaces, though a cost factor, has brought great tremendous economic and other benefits. Our morale is high.
If we could implement the same solution throughout the state of Sarawak and nationwide, we can bring life back to our economy.
Antimicrobial coating destroys Covid-19 virus on the surfaces and negative ions minimises airborne transmissions. A holistic approach must be taken into consideration. A reimagination of current measures. We must also be forward looking and plan for the possibility of Covid-19 becoming an endemic.
Thus, we must take measures that ensure a return to activity in a safe manner. For example, we must start planning for festive seasons ahead where the government provides safe spaces, such as halls to vendors that are safe for people to be around. It’s not going to be the same atmosphere wise, but Malaysians are a resilient people who will pull together when needed.
One key insight that we had was the fact that not all antimicrobial solutions are equal. After careful assessment, we have found that Quantum-Ion™ solution is the best available and fits the current workplace situation as the table below demonstrates.
To further enhance effectiveness, we can overlay the antimicrobial coating with technologies at workplaces where vitals are taken before entering offices and the same with students. Then, the employee or student can work from home preventing spreads in the community and workspaces.
Overall, we shall be aware and reimagined our new normal as global warming, deforestation among others can constantly lead diseases to be spread from animals to humans.
Sustainability too becomes key. How do we develop sustainably? We must be proactive and address all these issues for our future generations and that is reflected upon the actions of which we take now.
We are familiar with the saying that crisis can offer opportunities, if we look hard enough. The Covid-19 pandemic is one such crisis, but we need a paradigm shift to spot and capitalise on the opportunities to build a more resilient future.
The writer is the chief executive officer of Bintulu Port Holdings Berhad (Bintulu Port)