On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Too close for comfort

Covid-19 patients were once mere statistics, but with a spike in cases, friends and colleagues are also falling victim to the deadly virus.

MOST of us would like to think the Covid-19 pandemic is something that affects others, possibly, people who work as frontliners or foreigners. Or maybe people who live in congested areas or even recent visitors to Sabah.

However, that’s far from the truth. It doesn’t matter if you live in a slum or an upscale residential area because there’s bound to be interaction in some form or the other.

If it’s not you, then your colleagues could be the ones to have had a brush with someone compromised.

The insidious virus could also have weaselled in with friends who dropped by your home for a visit, or latched on to you when meeting with clients outside.

Places of worship are high-risk areas, too. So, since March, and a Holy Communion service apart, I’ve only attended online church services.

The routine Saturday night meal with close friends has been postponed indefinitely.

There are sound reasons to be fearful. I live in a red zone with Covid-19 positive cases around me.

I’ve been working from home and only go out to buy food when needed.

I’ve completely stopped eating at restaurants and have stayed away from malls. It’s not good for retailers, but I’m not taking any chances.

On Thursday, the St Joseph International school across the road from where I live, had to be closed after an intern teacher tested positive for Covid-19. He had apparently been in close contact with a positive case.

Just down the road, at the Jaya Grocer outlet in Mutiara Tropicana, which I often patronise, an employee tested positive.

The person had been staying at the nearby Tropicana Golf and Resort Club hostel, where 23 workers were found infected. The club was also a place I frequented.

Of course, it was only natural I crosscheck between the dates of when these workers were infected and when I had patronised these places.

Certainly, the tracking system by MySejahtera is good because it can be effective in contact tracing. It’s better than merely writing your names in a register, with silly pseudonyms or otherwise.

Naturally, residents staying in our neighbourhood are deeply concerned since there are many workers – who presumably live nearby – who maintain various sectors of our area.

Last week, the Petaling District Health Department began conducting Covid-19 tests for all residents of the nearby Pelangi Damansara Flats at Persiaran Surian after 23 people tested positive for the virus.

Petaling District Disaster Management Committee chairman Johary Anuar said the tests on residents in Block B started on Oct 21 and followed through Thursday (Oct 22).

“I am told that residents in Block B have been tested. Residents from the other blocks will also go through the test. It is crucial to screen all those living at the high-rise area as 23 Covid-19 positive cases have been detected, ” he said.

Johary added that the results of the Covid-19 tests on Pelangi Damansara residents will take four to five days. It will be a tedious task since thousands of people live there.

I’m not being an alarmist, but there was a time when Covid-19 infections involved nameless people that I only read about in the media. They were statistics, but now, that evil has crept closer to home.

The daughter of a church member tested positive because someone at her workplace was infected. It’s a mild case, but disconcerting, nonetheless.

A church elder also shared with us that his daughter, a doctor in London, caught the virus as she had feared because she works in a hospital. The hospital provided little personal protective equipment (PPE), and in fact, merely told her to quarantine at home even after she tested positive.

A close friend of mine, who operates a logistic business, called me recently for advice after a colleague was snared by the virus.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has rightly said that staying at home is the best way to stop the current Covid-19 wave that’s ravaging the country.

He said while there are many “strategies” to prevent contracting the virus from someone, nothing beats avoiding contact altogether with people outside of home.

“The ministry’s advice is always for people to follow this strategy, which involves six methods. They are, applying physical distancing, using face masks, constantly washing hands, combined with avoiding crowded areas, confined spaces and close conversations.

“If you apply this strategy of six methods, you can break the chain of infection by up to 85%.

“However, if you want to break the chain by 100%, then stay at home. That is the best way of all, ” said Dr Noor Hisham at a press conference here on Oct 19.

Certainly, this isn’t the time for socialising or meetings, especially with strangers or acquaintances. If not priority, postpone for now.

Abstain from going to crowded places and high-risk areas. For me, malls are certainly on my list, even if others disagree.

So, to keep people at home, it’s also important that employers encourage their staff to work from home.

WFH, even before the pandemic, began becoming the norm, especially for professionals who feel going to the office is no longer essential with more work becoming digital.

I’ve found myself more productive with WFH because there are no unnecessary interruptions.

It’s much harder for older bosses, who haven’t adjusted to the digital culture, to accept WFH because they don’t completely trust their staff. But such archaic thinking has little place in this age since with the notebook, anyone can work anywhere.

The world has changed but for some, be it in politics or corporate, they can’t embrace the changes unfolding around them. They stubbornly cling on to their old practices and mindsets, or are reluctant to use new tools of communication, like Zoom.

I wrote this piece while watching a live seminar on a minimised screen, while also glued to the TV screen to catch Covid-19 updates.

Covid-19 has hammered us, but it has also opened a new world to us. As I was about to conclude this article, my phone beeped with two messages – from a neighbourhood group chat on Whatsapp and from a friend in Bangkok on the Line app updating me on the demonstrations there.

The mantra now is stay safe and stay connected. And that’s the truth.