2021 – The new normal, now normal? 2020 was supposed to be a good year for Malaysia. Why? It’s a year made up with numbers of perfect symmetry. But it turned out to be a year like no other in living memory, and a mutated virus was responsible for it. The year ended with Malaysia being hit by the 3rd wave of the pandemic. The country remained in a semi shutdown mode.
Then came 2021, the cases peaked in early February and began to go down. For good measure, schools were closed till April 2021. By April, even as schools were readying themselves to reopened, the number of cases still remained slightly over 1000 daily. It wasn’t still quite safe but kids had gone without school for far too long. Parents were clamouring for them to reopen. But not all was lost, the vaccines were here and Malaysia started rolling them out. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel. Victory over COVID was in sight. COVID will soon be managed! Everything seemed to be heading towards normalcy.
And for a brief moment, it seemed so.
The fourth wave
Then, things took a turn for the worse, cases started rising – a 4th wave. School had just reopened. Who’d have thought it possible? Didn’t the Spanish Flu come in 3 waves? Turns out we were wrong. Come to think of it, maybe we shouldn’t be looking at the Spanish Flu as a reference. Perhaps we should instead look at the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages which hit on and off, various parts of Europe for more than a century.
The vaccination drive in Malaysia
Didn’t I mention that the vaccines are here? Sad to say that in Malaysia, the vaccination rollout has been slow. I think the government was expecting the pandemic to taper off and wasn’t expecting to face yet another surge of infections. Despite a ban on interstate crossings, cases still continued to rise. It makes you wonder how effective that measure was.
School clusters in Malaysia
School clusters also began to appear. As of April 22, nearly 5,000 COVID-19 infections in school across Malaysia have been logged this year (The Straits Times, Apr 22). While the government insists that schools have so far not been the main places of infections, I think their reopening does have an impact. Once school reopened, it lulled everyone into feeling a sense of normalcy. Kids were being sent to school. How normal more can you get than that? When kids start going to school, the frequency of being on the road increases. Everything begins to go back to the old normal.
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Also, as schools readied for reopening, the malls began to fill up. Hawker stalls, restaurants, parks and everywhere where people could gather began to see a return to the old days. Ramadan was also just around the corner. In fact, it felt like people were showing up at those places with a vengeance.
Back to normalcy, too soon? Or new normal?
In Alor Setar, going by the open concourse opposite Masjid Zahir in the evenings and at nights, especially, reveals an air festivities. There is the usual pre-COVID Ramadan scenes of crowds gathering to break fast and nightly gathering of people just glad to be out. However, when you look at them, you wonder too, why the increasing number of daily COVID infections just don’t seem to be sinking in. Perhaps, people are just too ‘pandemic-fatigued’ to think anymore.
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Nightly bazaars were held at Jalan Stadium recently and judging by the long lines of cars parked along Jalan Sultan Abdul Halim, there just don’t seem to be any worries about COVID. Well, perhaps with just one major difference to pre-COVID – everyone was wearing a mask.
So, COVID-19, a year on. People are tired of staying at home. Virus or not, some seem bent on living their lives as normally as possible. A year ago, fear was everywhere. Today, you get a sense that many just don’t seem to want to think about it. Instead, many just plod on, making ends meet for themselves, doing what they normally do and not showing themselves to be perturbed by it.
Perhaps the new normal is going to be normal from now onwards.