Less normal but all is not lost during the pandemic

While wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing would continue for a while, it’s important to get real while making plans (and peace) with the virus.

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Allan Jacob

Published: Wed 12 Jan 2022, 10:55 PM

In my attempt to relive the ‘lost normal’ from before the coronavirus pandemic, I chanced upon what Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said in an interview recently.

He stressed on a ‘common-sense’ approach to make the post-pandemic era easier for people who want to live in harmony as they travelled farther to new destinations.

Griffiths was referring to the aviation sector that’s been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. His words made sense when all manner of confusion, caution and warnings (courtesy of the World Health Organisation) surround our masked existence during the crisis.

While wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing would continue for a while, it’s important to get real while making plans (and peace) with the virus just as we have lived with influenza or the common cold for millions of years.

I am, however, not sure if it’s time to take Covid-19 in our stride yet. Experts are still unsure about when we will reach an endemic stage in this battle against an unseen foe. It is not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’, they tell us. The question is: are people prepared to wait? A little more time could go a long way…

Modern pandemic rules have been framed to keep us safe but they are a means until ‘when’ this phase ends. Vaccines have worked to a large extent against previous variants with fewer spikes.

Omicron, however, looks more omnipresent — it’s all over the place and the shots may need to be modified. The WHO believes that if we vaccinate 70 per cent of the nine billion global population with two doses by March this year, we could take back a semblance of control after losing two years to virus-induced lockdowns and curbs.

Meanwhile, restrictions are being revived in miniature versions following the advent of Omicron, with some governments even threatening full-blown lockdowns.

What’s important here is to put our knowledge about the virus and emerging variants to good use and continue to live like we should while limiting the damage to the economy and society.

Frequent and mandatory tests for Covid could soon be a thing of the past and will make travelling easier, said the Dubai Airports chief.

“Once the (Covid-19) testing regime becomes history, which I think it will do shortly, there will be a strong recovery, and we need governments to stop interfering with the common-sense regulations that are now emerging in the wake of the latest strain of the virus,” said Griffiths.

In other words, he meant it’s time for people to get practical and move on, to prepare to travel and become social again even though things appear bleak in the short term with the advent of Omicron.

A refreshing thought from a corporate leader, much like the UAE’s and Dubai sensible approach to combat the evolving health crisis. Griffith’s statement only confirms the strategy to let people and organisations take control of the situation to prevent the spread of the pathogen. It boils down to personal responsibility and increased organisational effectiveness.

In two years, we have learned that what’s certain about this pandemic is the uncertainty it has caused. All predictions have been imperfect: the death toll continues to rise and has crossed 5.5 million. Cases have spiked to more than 313 million and a tsunami of disease is expected in the next month in Europe.

But a mild case is better than severe, getting a jab should be preferred than falling sick and in hospital. Silver linings abound. Let me explain with some data.

According to the WHO, the common flu affects a billion people every year. Of these, 3.5 million cases are severe and between 290,000-650,000 lives are lost annually. It may not compare to the Covid, yet it proves that we will soon be in control of the situation when the coronavirus can be managed with ease, though not eradicated.

This brings me to where we currently are: on the cusp of a new normal, or ‘normalisation’ as the Dubai Airports chief put it. Such a state has been reached after scientists developed vaccines in a record nine months back in 2020. It was a sprint for the jabs but the emergence of variants has made us rethink the old normal we once enjoyed and took for granted.

For some, the new normal would be shedding the mask post their vaccinations, which isn’t happening yet. For others, it’s stepping out and being less formal about social gatherings.

As we reach what could be the final stages of the pandemic, an epidemic of confusion is being sown which we must be wary about. There’s rising polemic about masks and vaccine mandates amid fears of polarisation.

Normalisation in this situation requires us to adopt common-sense measures that help us live in harmony with this disease and each other while putting less strain on health systems and medical professionals. If we can accept the flu for what it is, so can we with Covid-19.

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