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Fear and caution in the time of the pandemic

Which do we exercise, as daily numbers continue to spike?

Michelle Chen
3 minute read
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Michelle Chen

Michelle is a Malaysian, a Chinese and a banana. She thinks this is a mad country, but there's no place like home.

The recovery movement control order, implemented just over four months ago on June 10, saw the gradual restoration of some semblance of normalcy in the everyday lives of Malaysians. Not complete normalcy, of course – by now, most people are familiar with the mantra of “the new normal”, a phrase which, ironically, implies an improvement over the “old normal” of what life used to be before the Covid-19 pandemic knocked the collective wind out of countries around the world.

Slowly, hesitantly, though, Malaysians began resuming their daily routines: groceries were done, children were sent to school, workers returned to their offices, and malls – the destination of choice for the majority on public holidays, weekends and indeed any random pocket of free time – began coming to life again.

In the Klang Valley, this tentative progress lasted 126 days before a new wave of infections sent Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya back under conditional MCO.

But even before Oct 14, malls, offices, schools and roads had been emptying for some time as spikes in daily Covid-19 numbers kept many at home. The government’s announcement of the CMCO merely formalised what, for many, was already a given.

While the lack of rush-hour traffic on the Federal Highway may best symbolise the mindset of many today, the alarm which characterised much of the country in the early days of the lockdown in March appears greatly subsided.

There are few reports, if any, of panic shopping – Malaysians have learnt how to keep a good stock of toilet roll at home – and the memes which met the government’s announcement of the CMCO – “When you can’t go Selangor to meet your friends because of CMCO… but no more Selangor people come queue for KL food” – suggest a certain level of jadedness about lockdowns in general.

And yet, anxiety persists on a quieter level. WhatsApp messages fly from phone to phone, ostensibly carrying the latest updates on “What The Government Doesn’t Want You To Know About Covid-19 In The Country”; news of new positive cases reaches friends and family at a speed which puts online portals to shame; and “Good Morning” messages have been replaced with “Stay Home And Stay Safe!”.

To be sure, there are now more things to worry over. For the past three days, Covid-19 cases have been hovering above 850 – a far cry from the 100-200 plus recorded when the initial MCO was implemented in March. Now, it’s considered a relatively good day if Covid-19 numbers don’t pass 500.

It would come as no surprise if, after a while, the numbers begin to get to us. Instinct for self-preservation aside, we worry about our loved ones, our businesses, our economy and, at times, our sanity. In the Klang Valley, we are not confined to our homes by any external order yet, but the internal fear of the virus which has wreaked havoc on all fronts across the globe is enough to keep anyone firmly at home with sanitiser and soap at the ready.

The hard truth is, until a workable vaccine is found, Covid-19 will continue to impact our lives. For those of us who have loved ones in hospital, or who have already lost them to the virus, the impact will likely continue forever.

But we should not allow ourselves to confuse fear with caution. Good sense is what tells you to avoid crowded places and to wear a mask and wash your hands. Fear is what keeps you an internal prisoner, consumed with anxiety over what could happen even though it hasn’t yet and may not ever.

This pandemic comes as a test to us all, although some of us have been put through more than others. For those who have lost family, friends and livelihoods, it is hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. But for those of us who have been more fortunate, now is not the time to be brought to our knees by our fear of the unknown. The Covid-19 crisis is far from over, but it will do enough damage without us helping it along. Don’t let it take more from us than it already has.