Merely responding to the pandemic can give us short-term relief but if we do not learn that we need to change our behavior we are bound to stumble into more pandemics in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic is simply the result of our failure to learn from the past. We treated earlier pandemics as a medical issue that requires a medical response. We conveniently forget that these crises were triggered by our behaviors and attitudes.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the whole world. Malaysia is no exception to this. However, we've done way better than many developed countries in responding to the pandemic.
Besides the MCO, Malaysians have been told to improve their personal hygiene, wash their hands regularly, observe social distancing and put on the face mask. All these are responses to an imminent threat. The fundamental question we have to ask is whether we have really learned anything that will indeed create a new normal. Or are really just responding to an abnormality and will return to the old normal once the threat of the pandemic has receeded.
We may simply decide to co-exist with Covid-19 and simply accept that a certain amount of infections and deaths from the infection is acceptable. After all, thats how we deal with dengue.
Much has been said about Covid-19 and that it originated from animals. The pandemic started when the virus jumped the human-animal barrier. Actually, it was more a case of humans violating the barrier and coming into close contact with animals. Earlier pandemics such as the avian flu and swine flu about a decade ago started because of similar causes. These earlier pandemics were simply early warning signs of worst things to come if we do not change our behaviour.
Merely responding to the pandemic can give us short-term relief but if we do not learn that we need to change our behaviour we are bound to stumble into more pandemics in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic is simply the result of our failure to learn from the past. We treated earlier pandemics as a medical issue that requires a medical response. We conveniently forget that these crises were triggered by our behaviours and attitudes.
It is of course tempting to just blame everything on China. Come on, we are better than Trump. Of course, this does not mean China is not culpable in causing this crisis. They are indeed culpable. But before we venture far to assign blame, let us reflect on our own attitudes and behaviours in Malaysia and how it is contributing to this time bomb.
Malaysia had a major scare during the Nipah virus epidemic. The cause of the epidemic is the spread of a virus from bats to pigs which then jumped to human beings. As human activties started encroaching into the habitat of animals we break the barrier and open a flood gate of infections.
The Nipah epidemic is not our only problem. We have also seen a rise in the number of leptospirosis cases in the last 20 years. This disease is caused by bacteria from rat urine. There has been many deaths from this disease.
Under normal circumstances the likelihood of this infection happening is low. But as we throw garbage libreally everywhere, rats start coming closer to our habitat as they forage for food. Initially, leptospirosis infections happened at rivers and waterfalls as more rats are attracted to these areas by garbage left by picknickers. These rats would secrete their urine in these location which then comes into contact with other picnickers. Nowadays we are beginning to hear of leptospirosis cases even in utban areas.
Unfortunately, we are the architect of both the Nipah epidemic and the rising number of leptospirosis infection. And there is of course our old friend dengue. It is a mosquito borne infection that has increased with urban development. Again we create the conditions that make it possible for mosquitoes to breed and spread the disease. We are also the architect of this problem.
This problem remains with us for decades for a simple reason ie our behaviour and attitudes has not changed and we let it happen. Before 1970s we hardly hear of dengue. But since then the problem has grown and we've accepted what was initially an abnormality as "normal". More people are infected and killed by dengue than by Covid-19 in Malaysia. Last year, there were more than 130,000 cases of dengue infections and almost 200 deaths in Malaysia. Strangely enough, we did not impose the MCO to curb it. Life continues as usual.
The root of our behavioral and attitudinal problem is our self-centred attitude. It is ironic to walk on many streets these days and find discarded face masks. People are concerned enough to protect themselves from Covid-19 but are not concerned about how the discarded face masks may harm others and hurt the environment.
Malaysians in general are proud of their cars. They will make it a point to keep it clean. Unfortunately, some keep their cars clean by throwing garbage onto the road. And there are of course smokers who think that the whole world is a dumping ground for their cigarette butts.
We are our biggest enemy. There will more epidemics and pandemics in the future created by our own behaviour and attitude. If we are serious about preventing future crises, we have to treat the Covid-19 as more than just a health and medical issue. It is above all, a learning moment. It is about our lifestyle and the need to change it. This pandemic is an opportunity to highlight this lesson. We probably even need a social engineering initiative to change the behaviour and attitudes of Malaysians. But so far, no such thinking is even taking place. Quo vadis post-Covid Malaysia.
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