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By Nurqalby Mohd Reda
KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 (Bernama) – First “sprouting” in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, the coronavirus responsible for causing COVID-19 has transmitted the infection to all four corners of the world.
More than one-and-a-half years later, the pandemic is still raging, with its death toll exceeding four million worldwide.
The emergence of more aggressive new variants of the coronavirus has burdened healthcare systems further. And, even though vaccines have since been discovered and are currently being administered to protect people against the disease, records from all over the world show that vaccinated individuals can still contract COVID-19 but minus the severe symptoms.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently said that COVID-19 is likely to become endemic and a majority of health experts concur with its view. By becoming endemic, it will be a part of our daily lives, similar to the flu.
In medical terms, a disease becomes endemic when it is prevalent in or restricted to a particular location, region or population. When a disease becomes endemic, the number of infections becomes relatively constant over the years, with occasional spikes in cases.
The question is, are Malaysians ready to coexist with a virus that has snatched 8,201 lives nationwide as of yesterday?
Dr Hanafiah Bashirun, a specialist in general health and occupational and emergency health, told Bernama that COVID-19 will most probably become endemic and “whether we like it or not, this is something the people of this country must accept”.
“We have seen recently that only a few countries have recorded zero cases for two weeks in a row, proving that most nations throughout the world have to accept COVID-19 as a part of life, similar to influenza (H1N1) that emerged in 2009 and then became endemic,” he said.
Elaborating on this, Dr Hanafiah said once COVID-19 has its status changed to endemic, it will no longer be necessary to provide statistics on new cases to the public who, however, would still be required to take precautionary measures, including complying with the three standard operating procedures (SOPs) involving wearing a mask, observing physical distancing and washing hands frequently.
Most importantly, the adult population should get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, said Dr Hanafiah who is confident that inoculation and observing the three main SOPs would be the key to controlling the transmission of the virus.
He explained that after COVID-19 becomes endemic, anyone experiencing mild flu-like symptoms will be considered as having the flu and, hence, will not be referred to a hospital, unless he or she manifests severe symptoms such as breathing difficulty.
According to Dr Hanafiah, patients with mild symptoms will no longer be isolated and, instead, will be treated as a normal case of viral infection.
However, he added that the declaration of COVID-19 as endemic will hinge on the decision taken by WHO, which will make an evaluation after a period of time.
“The declaration of COVID-19 as endemic is actually not dependent on the number of deaths or daily new cases (caused by the virus) reported by a country. In fact, there are no exact specific factors to place it as endemic.
“But while waiting for it (COVID-19) to become endemic, what we can do is to continue with our vaccination programme because a high vaccination rate will allow us to go back to our routine lives. We can also hope for the discovery of an antiviral drug that can be used to treat (COVID-19) infections,” he added.
Tan Sri Dr Jemilah Mahmood, who is special advisor to the Prime Minister on public health, had said previously that the authorities should consider making the COVID-19 vaccination an annual affair, similar to Europe’s yearly vaccinations to prevent seasonal flu infections.
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11, 2020.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
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