Will there be a 5th wave?

Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.  

– Angelina Jolie, actress

There seems to be new threats on the horizon for us here.

A report from Australia said it takes just a few seconds for a person to be infected with the Covid-19 virus as a person walks past another person while shopping. The report stated that this has happened several times.

Their health officers have issued a warning that while previously it was estimated it took 15 minutes to pass on the Covid-19 virus, this is no longer the case. Apparently now it can take only a “fleeting moment” of 5 to 10 seconds.

The new concern refers to the emergence of new and more transmissible deadly variants of the Covid-19 viruses.

Alpha, Gamma, Beta, Delta — these Greek alphabets have now become some of the new terms that are now being used to describe the new variants to avoid stigmatisation of countries where they were first detected.

This is keeping to the concept of the naming of the original virus as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) to prevent stigmatising the city where it was first reported.

A report in The Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological on June 22 by WHO said that globally, the variant Alpha has been reported in 170 countries, territories or areas, Beta in 119 countries, Gamma in 71 countries and Delta in 85 countries.

The latest variant of high concern is the Delta virus. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the Delta variant is the ‘most transmissible’ of all variants and reported to be spreading quickly amongst unvaccinated people.

He further added that “we are starting to see increases in transmission around the world” and “more cases mean more hospitalisations, further stretching health workers and health systems, which increases the risk of death”.

Our Ministry of Health has put in place new SOPs. The variant of concern (VOC) and variant of interest (VOI) have already been detected in Malaya.

The new rules entail travellers from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to undergo the mandatory 21-day quarantine at the international point of arrivals.

With our already overstretched healthcare facilities and staff, Sarawak can ill afford to be impacted by another wave, especially by the Delta variant.

Therefore, it is good to see that the government via the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee has moved fast to prevent and or contain the spread of the new flood of deadly viruses by including additional requirements.

This involves having a need to have a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test on the 18th day before they are allowed to enter Sarawak. Once in Sarawak, they will be quarantined until the repeated RT-PCR swabs are negative.

There are other variant requirements as well for travellers, depending on their point of origin.

All these measures are due to the Covid-19 Variant Delta B.1.617.2. that has already been detected in Malaysia and which is causing havoc in some other nations, such as India. 

We are already paying the price of past complacency in Sarawak due to official and public overconfidence resulting in high figures now from the current wave that led to the existing MCO. Opening up borders with lax conditions would be a big risk.

It is agreed by all that mass vaccinations is the main way forward. This, however, must be supported by strong enforcement for breach of SOPs.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO Covid-19 Technical Lead has stated that that Covid-19 vaccines are “incredibly effective” at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant.

She added, “The virus will continue to evolve. And right now, our public health and social measures work, our vaccines work, the diagnostics work and the therapeutics work. But there may be a time where this virus evolves and these countermeasures don’t.”

Our politicians must not waver in their determination to support tough enforcement. I am sure pressure is high on them to be seen soft, especially considering that election might be round the corner.

Ghebreyesus has emphasised that it’s “quite simple” that more transmission means more variants and less transmission means fewer variants.

His message is that all tools at our disposal should be used to prevent transmission in combination with vaccination.

So, the current vaccination programme on its own would not be able to halt the new variants.

Adhering to the strict SOPs will help to mitigate the effects of the 5th Wave.

Beware, it is only a matter of time it will possibly land on our shores.

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