We have to take care of the cure that will make the problem worse no matter what.— Joe Biden, President-elect of the United States
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin said a Covid-19 vaccine might be deployed in Malaysia by the end of this year. He added that China had agreed to prioritise Malaysia as a recipient of its coronavirus vaccines. This is good news for Malaysians.
Does it mean we can safely travel the world again soon?
Before you go and celebrate, wait first. According to an article I read online, potential travellers must continue to persevere and be patient before they can fly safely again.
Infectious diseases experts in the United States warn that a large-scale vaccine rollout can still take several months and in the meantime, the people must continue to wear masks, practise social distancing and avoid crowds.
While waiting for the large-scale manufacturing of vaccines to be ready, we can start planning for travel for the months ahead. Right now, a US expert interviewed by AFAR Media said that nearly one out of every three commercial planes was currently in storage. Airlines, he added, would bring back those planes when they felt more confident about future demand for travel.
During the time of the vaccine rollout and even afterwards, experts point out there is a need — for the time being — to continue living and travelling with the standard operating procedures (SOPS) to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Most of us equate availability of Covid-19 vaccines to their distribution. Again, this is where we stand to be corrected.
Once approved, it takes time for the vaccines to be manufactured and then distributed. How soon Malaysia receives the vaccine from China, for instance, depends on the availability of planes.
A report by CNN said that distribution was a major hurdle because the bulk of the world’s cargoes were flown in the hold of passenger planes. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represented 290 international airlines, warned that it was almost impossible to distribute vaccines with the lack of international routes, severe downturn in airline passenger traffic plus significant number of planes in long-term storage.
Even when vaccinations start, experts feel that reviving air travel to pre-pandemic volumes will take time. Some predict that flight demand and capacity may not bounce back for at least three years.
Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, said in a Goldman Sachs report quoted by CNN, “We don’t expect to have enough vaccine supply to achieve global herd immunity in 2021.
“So the near-term aim is take the sting out of the pandemic by reducing death rates and severe disease and by protecting healthcare systems, which should put the world on the road to restoring normal economic activity.”
In an interview with AP, Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce talked about the possibility of a “vaccination passport” for international travellers after the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
He said the airline was looking at changing its terms and conditions for international travellers to have the vaccinations before they could get on the planes.
While awaiting the vaccine supply from China, Malaysia has decided to join the global Covax Covid-19 vaccine plan co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) by making an initial payment of RM40 million.
This vaccine, it is learnt, is available to only 10 percent of the total population. The prime minister also claimed that the Covax Facility would only provide doses for three million residents in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, AFP reported that nearly a million had taken an experimental Covid-19 vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinopharm although there is no clear clinical evidence of efficacy. China has given the vaccine to state employees, international students and essential workers heading abroad since July.
Sinopharm is also testing two vaccines in late-stage trials in some countries such as the UAE, Bahrain , Egypt, Jordan, Peru and Argentina.
Recently, foreign spouses to Sarawakians told Malay Mail they were struggling to reunite with their spouses because of the high quarantine costs involved. Some said they were mentally distressed over the prolonged separation.
To these women, my advice is, “Persevere and be patient. You are not the only ones separated from your beloved ones by the pandemic.”
I have one last question before I end my column this week: Once the vaccines are available in Malaysia, will quarantine in hotels be mandatory again?
I guess we will all get the answer to this question when the vaccines come. In the meantime, let us persevere and be patient.