Covid-19: One year after

Covid-19 has introduced us to a whole different world. The pandemic is considered the most crucial global health calamity of the century and the greatest challenge that humankind faced since the Second World War. A year has passed and the battle continues.

The virus that changed our lives forever

Fast approaching the new year in December 2019, little did we know, 2020 has a surprise in store for the world. On December 31, 2019, Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China recorded a total of 27 individuals infected with a viral pneumonia. Among the numbers, seven were in serious condition.

The outbreak’s most possible source is from a wholesale food market in Wuhan as many of the initial patients were either stall owners, market employees, or regular visitors to the market.
The outbreak was an unidentified severe acute respiratory syndrome, with the possibility of the emergence of a new zoonotic virus.

Leaving the year behind, through an article on the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee expressed her concern, “The situation in Wuhan is unusual, and we are not sure about the reasons behind the outbreak yet.”

And in the blink of an eye, the virus came spread around the world. Once the number of cases started to soar in March, countries began locking down and imposed restrictions. Covid-19 was then declared a pandemic. It was something so foreign, that we scrambled to do whatever we could with limited knowledge of the virus.

Yet we continued the battle. A year had passed since, and wave after wave re-emerged. Even though the war is not over, there is still hope. With news of vaccines to be handed out in the first quarter of 2021 in Malaysia, it is still too early to say if we can really celebrate the victory against Covid-19.

Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud

Sharing his thoughts with New Sarawak Tribune, Universiti Malaya epidemiologist Professor Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud described Covid-19 as the most significant event of the 21st century. “It has had the most wide-ranging effect on just about everything that one can think of. It has caused disease and deaths, with some countries more badly hit than others.”

Awang added that with affordable cheap air travel, Covid-19 managed to spread faster than any disease in human history. “Through the course, it has contracted economies, caused almost a whole year of education to be lost, closed borders and radically changed the way we work and play.”

A widespread event

With every sector affected by the pandemic, people have seen declines or loss of incomes and jobs. Awang said, “Another indirect effect of Covid-19 on other diseases is the focus on Covid-19 has resulted in delays and probably sub-optimal care for patients in badly hit localities.”

Seeing the future post-Covid-19, the epidemiologist said that the world will see changes that we need to adapt to. “Economies will have to change and Malaysia will also need to change. Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of our economy, the deficiencies of our Internet infrastructure and the general ability of our country to weather such a calamitous event.”

“Our planning will need to include the possibility of more such pandemics in the future and I think we need to take a long hard look at where the country is at the moment and where we need to fix things.”

When asked whether there will be a time when we no longer need to wear a mask, and no longer observe social distancing, Awang said that despite the emergence of vaccines, we would still have to adhere to the SOPs (standard operating procedures) and to maintain self-hygiene.

“We need to remember that Covid-19 will take time to blow over so until that happens, such practices that were not common in Malaysia in 2019 but are now part of everyday lives in 2020 will continue in 2021.”

Awang noted that the pandemic had changed society in different ways. “Another pandemic on this scale is quite possible given that we have not yet understood what set it off in the first place, which means we might continue to repeat whatever mistakes that resulted in Covid-19.”

“I hope that researchers and policymakers will make a concerted effort to understand the root causes of the Covid-19 pandemic and so put in place safeguards and the planning necessary to prepare for such a calamity.”

“I also hope that policymakers will see the need for more and better public health and preventive care as this has been proven to be our first line of defence in a pandemic.”

Simultaneously, Covid-19 had forced us to confront the ugly truths in our country, according to Awang who revealed that in fighting the virus, we were able to recognise the inequality that exists between our regions, the fragility of our economy and the tremendous tasks as we try to recover the ground and the time that we lost this past one year.

“If we recognise these truths and do something about it, we may emerge stronger as a country, with less inequality, better public health and infrastructure, and make the transition to a more knowledge-driven and pandemic-resilient economy. I am optimistic that Malaysians are resilient people and will learn valuable lessons from this pandemic,” he said.

Worrying numbers

Last month, the Malaysian Health Ministry disclosed 37,009 calls were made to the helplines for mental health services and psychosocial support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of the total numbers, the highest percentage, 53.3 percent called in to seek emotional support related to psychology. Meanwhile, those calling in with relation to Covid-19 amounts up 12.6 percent, while 4.98 percent voiced their needs for donations and assistance pertaining the pandemic.

Mental Health Association Sarawak (MHAS) President Dr Ismail Drahman

As the effects of Covid-19 continue to present themselves in many ways, among the most worrying consequences of the pandemic is mental health issues. Mental Health Association Sarawak (MHAS) president Dr Ismail Drahman said the negative impact stemmed out of chronic stress and the inability for a person to predict when the pandemic will be over.

“Individuals can suffer from anxiety due to reading the current news online and the number of cases that causes death,” he added.

Advising on the issue, Dr Ismail shared some ways to cope during a worrying time like this.

“First, learn to limit yourselves from reading or watching the news. Then, try to adjust yourselves to the new mode of communicating with close relatives and friends. Finally, keep yourselves healthy by eating well, exercising and doing productive activities.”

Mental Health Association Sarawak (MHAS) Committee Member Laura Kho

Meanwhile, MHAS committee member Laura Kho shared that there is always a flip side to every situation we find ourselves in. “Apart from practical steps like financial security and management, staying safe and healthy, now is the time to invest in your mental, emotional and spiritual health.”

“Take time to reflect on your life, on all that has happened, and whether the pandemic has realigned your priorities. We have always lived in a world that never stops moving, never stops talking, never stopsthinking,” Laura said. She also urged people to prioritise their needs over their wants and to spend more time with their loved ones. “We will need to slow down our minds to find our own meaning to life rather than having the outside world tell us what it is.”

Laura also said that everybody has been affected in some way, “The situation presents an opportunity for our community to reflect on what our priorities are — what gives our life purpose and meaning. I think that the after-effects of the pandemic could help our community realise that mental health is a fundamental aspect of our life, of equal importance as our physical health.”

“To help those who were recently diagnosed, I hope our community learns to be more compassionate and empathetic as we each go through our own mental health issues, which may or may not have been caused or exacerbated by the pandemic. Just be kind to everyone,” Laura said.