Even as countries celebrate hitting vaccine targets and move to lift lockdown measures to the cheers of a pandemic-weary public, World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has lamented and warned that complacency and inconsistent public health measures lie behind the current rise in Covid-19 cases globally. His reminder that the pandemic is a long way from being over must be taken seriously at this critical time. Even though vaccination drives have been ramped up in many countries, WHO officials point to a 19 per cent rise in cases globally last week. Early euphoria in countries has led to a lifting of restrictions, or plans for opening up.
Shops, hair salons and gyms have opened in England, for instance. Thailand is preparing to reopen the resort island of Phuket from July and will waive quarantine for vaccinated tourists. It hopes this can be a testing ground to expand to other tourist draws such as Koh Samui.
But while the desire to get out and to travel has grown, a resurgence of infections in Asia, including a recent new dormitory case in Singapore, should give everyone pause. India is seeing a massive second wave, while Thailand’s tourism plans could yet be derailed by a steady rise in numbers. These developments clearly demonstrate that while vaccines can help stem the tide, the coronavirus spread has yet to be completely contained, that those who are vaccinated can still be infected, and that celebrations are premature.
The authorities in Singapore are proceeding cautiously, gradually lifting restrictions while introducing measures to curb transmission. Measures such as pre-event testing and mask wearing remain in place, and social gatherings are still capped at groups of eight. The upper limits for attending marriages, solemnisations and live performances have been raised but not entirely lifted. But government rules and advances in medicine can only go so far. Successfully emerging from Covid-19 requires collective responsibility by individuals, employers and society at large. The swarms of people at the Rail Corridor, parks and other nature trails in recent weeks; people removing masks in restaurants even when they are not eating; and others who slack off on hand washing and using sanitisers, show that people may be letting their guard down prematurely.
Much has also been said of Singaporeans’ lack of initiative in keeping hawker centre tables clean and returning trays. Covid-19 ought to be the jolt needed to raise public hygiene standards, with such practices internalised as a way of life. Companies on their part should maintain regular cleaning of common spaces, and abide by safe distancing and capacity limits at work-related events. While the desire to ease up and return to normalcy is understandable, this is not the time for anyone to cut corners.