How to ever control a global pandemic?
TURN back the clock: In September 2019, three months before the world first learned of a new virus that would spark a global pandemic, a health watchdog released a report painting a dire picture of a planet at risk of a crisis.
There was a “very real threat” of a rapidly moving, highly lethal respiratory pathogen starting a pandemic, killing tens of millions and wiping trillions off the global economy; whoever took it seriously because the world was not prepared.
Two years later, the world is more than 18 months deep into a pandemic. Though less deadly so far than the worst case imagined by the group, the global crisis has thrown into sharp relief shortcomings they outlined in 2019.
High-flying Singapore has been going through a bumpy ride in late September and early October in managing the deadly invisible assassin, COVID-19, with the recent announcement of the measures to be extended till November 21.
The daily case count was lower than 100 as the city state eased the restriction on Aug 10. But who would have known right?
On April 6, there were zero new locally transmitted cases to eye-boggling of 3,577 new cases in October 6. So we know what the ripple effect is going to be; witnessing the kind of work and measures the healthcare workers have to undertake is overwhelming, so in full honesty, kudos to them!
Seriously, COVID-19 literally makes everyone work to the bones. Whenever there is an ease of restrictions which gives glimmer of hope to many, it is short-lived; a step forward that goes two steps back as many opined with netizens their fair share of comments, with howls of anguish.
In order to avoid unnecessary deaths that may arise, the healthcare system must remain intact and be under control. So tapping on the brake rather than step on it to a complete halt is a calibrated and staged approach. The city-state introduced a slew of measures over a period of time such as gather in groups of up to two for vaccinated individuals and working from home as default while ramping up the medical facilities, including recover centers as well as equipment and manpower to manage the surge of cases. By tightening the measures, it is meant to slow down the rate of increase transmission to buy time for new healthcare protocols to stabilise.
It also has to convince the public that the new focus should be on minimizing hospitalisations and mortality as opposed to number of cases as the main performance measure given the vaccines significantly diminish the risks but does not guarantee zero infections. According to reports, Israel’s experience shows that infection rate among vaccinated persons is 30 times less than that of the unvaccinated. The hospitalisation rate for the vaccinated is also lower – 10 times.
As for the defiant unvaccinated individuals with only few medically ineligible ones for Covid-19 jabs, it was only a matter of time. Progressively, the movement of unvaccinated individuals were limited in bid to reduce the exposure such as no entry to shopping malls, dine-in at hawker centers, coffee shops or visit attractions except for unvaccinated children who are 12 years old or under; a dual-track approach to protect the unvaccinated individuals in the community and to reduce the strain on the healthcare system.
For Singapore, the city state is either in the full lock down nor has completely opened up. It has chosen to go on the middle road lane giving ample time to manoeuvre either sides, giving people some space for movement with restrictions imposed and allowing business to resume activities but in a much milder approach without lockdown. In this way, it allows economy to move.
But truth be told, could any country plan for a Covid-19 exit? We have witnessed how this coronavirus mutates fast. And we can’t say for sure when this pandemic will end or when will it erupt again, can we? But every country has to mentally prepared for future waves to follow. I am not dampening anyone spirits but look, even China, being quiet for several months has reported new Covid-19 infections that has spread to 11 provinces in the week from October 17.
So who knows if the leading vaccines are still effective against the Delta variants, everything is really murky out there given the emerging reports. So all we could do is to shift our mental model and exercise social responsibility.
The invisible assassin is testing our resolute, it is a formidable disease and we have to be prepared for the long haul; the rules keep changing according to the ground situation and we have to be fluid in adapting the new norms. Because who knows there must be some other more virulent strain mutating somewhere.
SIX MAJOR STEPS
Global media reports recognize six major steps to prepare for future outbreaks and remedy the “growing nationalism, geopolitical tensions and deep inequalities” that it says have riddled the global response to Covid-19 and, without change, will continue to hinder getting it under control.
Those steps include: (1) Strengthening global governance by adopting an international agreement on health emergency preparedness and response, and convening a summit of heads of state and other stakeholders on the issue;
- Building a strong WHO with greater resources, authority and accountability; (3) Creating an agile health emergency system with better information sharing and a mechanism for research, development and equitable access to common goods;
(4) Establishing a collective financing mechanism for preparedness; (5) Empowering communities and ensuring engagement of civil society and the private sector; (6) Strengthening independent monitoring and mutual accountability for emergency preparedness and response.
But the bottomline: Can we ever fight an ever-raging global medical crisis or just be prepared to tolerate and live with it.
Singapore. 10 November 2021