I’m sure we’ve all heard the news about the new Omicron variant spreading around, right?
You might be thinking, so it’s not enough that we’re still amidst a pandemic, even after two years, but to get hit with news of new variants every so often? Come on. Can’t we catch a break? When is this going to end? The uncertainty is driving me crazy.
And now, as of this morning, 3 December 2021, we’ve got news that the Omicron variant has reached Malaysian soil.
It was detected in a 19-year-old foreign student in Ipoh, Perak, who arrived from South Africa through Singapore on 19 November 2021.
A Wild Omicron Approaches
What’s big news now is the spread of a new COVID-19 variant that goes by the name of Omicron. I know, it sounds like a Pokémon, doesn’t it? But apparently, this variant is supposedly a lot worse than its previous counterparts.
Also classified as the B.1.1.529 variant, it was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021 and appears to have 32 mutations located in its spike protein. If you’re unfamiliar, spike proteins are what allow these viruses to penetrate host cells and cause infection.
Compared to the Delta variant, since the Omicron variant is still relatively new, the only information we have of it as of now, is that it’s likely to be more transmissible. More data is needed, however, to know of its effects on on our vaccines.
The cause of concern for this variant is its ability to mutate at an alarming speed. The spike proteins of this variant escape detection from our antibodies. Another mutation of its sort appears to increase the ability of the virus to gain entry to our cells, making it more transmissible.
The 32 mutations detected in the new variant’s spike protein will change the shape of this structure, making it problematic for our immune response induced by the vaccines. Which is probably another sure reason for you to get your booster shot.
Don’t think that two shots are just enough for you to get by. In this day and age, it’s good to be prepared for anything.
What’s The Government Doing To Help Curb This Issue?
As of 27 November 2021, there is an entry ban on travellers with a 14-day travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, according to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
Malaysian residents and foreigners with PR status would be allowed to enter the country but are subjected to a 14-day mandatory quarantine at designated stations regardless of their vaccination status.
They are not allowed to quarantine at home.
Following the travel ban, Khairy then announced that all travellers from Malaysia and Singapore arriving on the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) will also have to undergo a COVID-19 self-test on the 3rd and 7th day upon arrival.
Aside from that, travellers from United Kingdom, Portugal, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Nigeria, Belgium, Japan, Brazil, Norway, Czech Republic, France or Reunion Island, Austria, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Ireland, UAE and California in the United States are barred from entering Malaysia from taking part in the Langkawi international travel bubble programme, following the detection of cases involving the Omicron variant
In the meantime, since the new variant is discovered, we need to take very good care of ourselves and follow strict SOPs as to minimise any risks of contacting this.
SOPs Are For Your Safety, Not Just An Obligation
We have SOPs put out for us to ensure that the spreading of the virus is minimal, at best. But what happens when people take these SOPs too lightly? Have we already been conditioned by this 21st century plague? That, just because it’s the “new normal” now, we have chosen to just live with it and let what happens, happen?
When I went out last week for groceries, I psyched myself up in preparation to face a huge crowd of people. When I actually got to the supermarket, nothing could have truly prepared me for how large the crowd actually was. There was a line from the parking lot all the way up to the entrance.
What makes matters worse is that the people lining up weren’t even making sure they were at a respectable distance from each other. They were all up in each other’s space and I don’t know about you, but just seeing that makes me break out in cold sweat.
Another occurrence is when people around you insist on keeping their masks lowered down to their noses, claiming that they couldn’t breathe otherwise. I don’t know what to tell you, buddy. Maybe the mask you’re wearing isn’t doing its job?
Should You Really Mask Up or Nah?
According to research done by the Annals of the American Thoracic Society in October 2020, wearing a mask doesn’t actually affect your oxygen or carbon dioxide levels if you’re a healthy person. Which is what you claim to be, isn’t it? That’s why you’re out in public amidst a pandemic acting like it’s 1998 again.
Earlier in November 2021, a video of a caucasian woman refusing to put on a mask, being denied entry to a store in a mall went viral. She believed that she was being treated unfairly as Malaysia was a free country where you get to choose whether you would want to wear a mask or not.
Although Malaysia is a partly free country according to Freedom House, the law of wearing masks isn’t a choice. Since 1 August 2020, the government has made it compulsory for people in Malaysia to wear masks when in public. If you are seen without a mask, you can be fined up to RM1,000 under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act.
So yes, you absolutely have to wear your mask when you’re outside your house. Wear it when you’re at the mall, waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks, taking a walk at the park and even while you’re getting packages from the postman.
COVID-19 isn’t a joke, guys. It’s still so new! There’s so much to learn about it. And unlike your previous partners, COVID-19 is willing to change itself just to be a part of your life.
You’ll Never Know Til It Hits You
A friend of mine had an experience with the virus that haunts her to this day. She is someone who never thought she’d ever get infected by this disease. She’s young, isn’t she? She’s healthy. She’s up to date with all her shots. Until one day, her brother came home after a night out with friends, with a headache and then eventually a fever.
A few days passed and his fever still hadn’t gone down, so they went to see a doctor. After questioning him about his whereabouts, they found out that he went to a party somewhere in town.
He admitted to not wearing a mask and not keeping a distance because “it’s a party! How can anyone mingle and hear each other with masks in the way?” and proceeded to also defend himself by saying, “I’m vaccinated! The whole point of being vaccinated is that I get to go back to normal!”
Initially, that was the plan, yes. But with new variants popping out from the ground like daisies, how are we expected to just throw caution to the wind? With the vaccine, we still have restrictions that you need to follow.
According to Universiti Sabah Malaysia family medicine consultant Associate Professor Dr Mohd Nazri Mohd Daud, “although the clinical data has stated (as much as) 95% of vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 virus, it is better if the SOPs are obeyed.”
As the virus is still considered new and complex, it requires long-term data collection.
So why, I ask, must you take only one piece of information and mould it to your liking? It doesn’t work that way.
And Another Thing!
While I’m on a roll, let’s talk about how some restaurants in Malaysia don’t even look at your MySejahtera as you walk in.
On multiple occasions, they just glance at it out of obligation or even just ignore it altogether and just show us our tables. What happened to the strict rules of only letting vaccinated individuals enter restaurants?
How would you know if that person’s vaccinated or not if you don’t check?
I get it, okay. I 100% understand your frustration.
You want things to go back to normal. Who doesn’t? I’d also like to go on vacation again without worrying about whether or not I’ll come back alive and healthy.
But if we continue to behave like children about this, constantly throwing tantrums and cheating our way out of being caught, we’ll continue to live like this for a very long time.
Whatever happened to “fighting the virus”? Did y’all give up already?
You might think: “Habis tu? Sampai bila kita nak hidup dalam ketakutan je?”
I can’t really answer that question. Being a normal citizen myself, I don’t have the power nor the authority to predict the future. But is it really hard to see where we’re going to end up when almost everywhere you go, you see people treating SOPs like a joke?
Do we really want another lockdown on our hands? The cases are rising again, with the new variant on our hands and hospitals are slowly getting overcrowded. I, for one, refuse to go back into lockdown. I may be an introvert but even I have limits.
And yet, people still continue to go about as if the disease is non-existent. What would it actually take for you to step up your game and finally take this seriously? Because what if this were to get worse? Are we expected to live in lockdown forever? What happens then?