Moving to the endemic phase

With Covid-19, we’ve made it to the life raft. Dry land is far away.

Marc Lipsitch, American epidemiologist

Living with Covid-19!  Not exactly a welcome thought. I am sure this is not what we wanted to hear or do, especially after all the lockdowns, SOPs and two doses of vaccines and a third dose on the way.

Many of us expected a safe exit out of this pandemic nightmare and I am sure, so did the disaster management planners and decision-makers worldwide.

However, it seems that there was a ‘black swan’ event (Delta variant) within the original ‘black swan’ event (the Covid-19 pandemic).

This new variant certainly threw the spanner in the works and makes it look like we are back to square one after all the hard work and good efforts by governments and individuals.

Back to living with Covid-19. Well, this is what we have been doing in one form or another, coexisting with virus for the past 19 months.

The term ‘endemic’ is now appearing in the press more often.  Our Sarawak government has already announced preparations are being made for the transition to the endemic stage.

So, what’s the difference between, epidemic, pandemic and endemic in the context of diseases?

Epidemic refers to a disease with rates that are clearly above the expected occurrence in a community or region. Examples are yellow fever, smallpox, measles and polio.

A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread over a large area throughout an entire continent or the whole world as has happened now with Covid-19.

An endemic, on the other hand, is a disease outbreak that is consistently present but limited to a particular region. An example is malaria.

It is anticipated that we will enter the endemic phase as a policy quite soon, especially taking into account non-medical considerations such as the state of the economy and pressure from the business sector, to open up completely without restriction soon.

To illustrate a point, I will share a short personal experience here of my possible close shave with being infected.

Since the initial lockdown in March 2020 as part of a team, we have been organising, coordinating or facilitating blood donations two or three times a week until now.

In addition to this I have been involved in volunteering at one of the PPVs every day it is open since March of this year.

These frontline activities and responsibilities made me very aware of the need to follow the SOPs and stay alert.

However, last week on Thursday, all these activities came to a grinding halt when I got a call asking me to go for a swab test and get a home quarantine order at a Covid Assessment Centre. 

At the time of writing, I am undergoing home quarantine until September 23. How did this situation arise?

On September 9, a friend asked me to meet up to discuss an NGO activity. I chose a quiet coffee shop (to minimise the risk). At all times we used a mask except when we were having our coffee and we practised social distancing.

My point here is that despite all the precautions we can still be exposed during the vulnerable periods, especially when the masks come off.

So, during the endemic phase, it is anticipated all economic activities will be ‘back to normal’ and therefore there will be more such situations.

There is even talk of “it is not a matter of if you will be infected with Covid-19 virus, but a matter of time that you will be infected”.

Therefore, what are we supposed to do to prepare for the endemic stage? Are we supposed to go into personal lockdown to keep the virus at bay? Do we not go out to eateries at all? How long do we carry on this way of life? Much of this is going to be a personal choice.

The government has already made tremendous efforts to keep its people safe and I am sure will continue to do so.

In addition to this, it would be good if self-care packages could be issued that includes oximeters, essential vitamins supplements to boost our immunity and other relevant items they deem necessary.

Ultimately, however, with ongoing uncertainties of the path future variants will take and once the endemic phase is implemented, we need to continue the observance of the hygiene SOPs.

In the absence of a proper cure for Covid-19, it is only self-care that can keep us on the safer side.

The views expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.