HealthHighlightsLNA World

Lest we forget

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Together we can ensure the pain of the pandemic will never be experienced again. Photo by Kelly Sikkema - Unsplash

By: Dr. Jazli Aziz

In May of this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it is no longer a “public health emergency of international concern.” Closer to home, we slowly started transitioning to the endemic stage much earlier, as the nation opened its international borders in April 2022. Since then, public health restrictions associated with the pandemic have slowly been loosened, and Malaysians began enjoying a return to normalcy, to life before the pandemic.

However, we’ve recently been reminded that endemicity does not mean that COVID-19 has been eradicated, nor does it mean that we can let our guard down. Over the past two weeks, more and more Malaysians have been infected with COVID-19, with an increase of 57% as our Ministry of Health has reported. As we gear up for the year end celebrations, travelling and meeting friends and family, let us remember some of the lessons we took away from the pandemic in the hope that we can stem this current wave of infections before it gets much worse.

First and foremost, is to maintain personal hygiene by sanitising or washing your hands regularly. Back during the height of the pandemic, everyone carried around a tiny bottle of sanitiser and we could also find bottles of it provided for free in public places like shopping malls and eateries. Sanitising your hands is possibly the most basic yet effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

Secondly, though it is no longer mandatory, wearing face masks in public should be encouraged in certain circumstances. When attending any major function like a conference or exhibition, riding the LRT or MRT, going to class or the office, and going to a shopping mall are all perfect examples of when a face mask should be worn. Malaysians thankfully seem to be aware of this, as sales of face masks seem to have increased according to Ideal Healthcare CEO Haminuddin Hamid in a recent interview with Free Malaysia Today.

Public amenities could also be safer following regular sanitisation like we experienced during the pandemic. Public suraus could be cleaned regularly, as well as prayer mats which are often neglected and never washed. Elevator buttons and escalator railings should be sanitised regularly throughout the day. In restaurants, digital menus could be preferable over physical menus which may not be cleaned between customers. Sanitising these items and locations we interact with daily could have a significant impact on limiting the spread of infectious diseases.

It will also make a big difference if people who are unwell avoid going out when possible. If it is necessary to go out when you are unwell, be sure to wear a face mask. Avoid crowded areas if you are unwell and ventilate indoor areas if you need to be there. Coughing and sneezing in public is one of the easiest ways an infection can spread. Staying home while you are unwell or wearing a mask if you need to go out can make a huge difference at the population level.

Even if COVID-19 is no longer a public health concern, it will likely remain forever in our population. As the last two weeks have shown us, complacency can easily lead to a new wave of infections without warning. These practices that we implemented together during the pandemic have the power to severely mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

So, let’s remember to mask up, keep our hands clean, and together we can ensure the pain of the pandemic will never be experienced again.

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The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Oral and Craniofacial Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at jazliaziz@um.edu.my

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