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Postcard from Zaharah: As Covid-19 rages on…

New Straits Times logo New Straits Times 15/3/2020 Zaharah Othman
a man and a woman walking down a street: Panic-buying by customers left stores in disarray. REUTERS © Provided by New Straits Times Panic-buying by customers left stores in disarray. REUTERS

AS Covid-19 rages on around the world leaving a trail of fatalities while an increasing number of countries closing their borders, Malaysians and other travellers arriving in the United Kingdom via Heathrow airport and many other points of entry said checks appeared to be minimal.

“People are so relaxed about it!” said a friend who was here in London for her long-scheduled holiday.

“No thermal infrared scanners in sight... we just walked through and no one stopped us to check!” she added.

Coming from Malaysia where many people walked around with masks on, she was also shocked to see that not many people here in the UK are wearing them. Those who do were and are still being treated with suspicion.

A woman on a tube I was travelling in recently, sitting one seat away from an Asian lady wearing a mask, pulled her scarf to cover her mouth. It would be a lie to say that people here appeared “relaxed” about the pandemic.

People are panicking — albeit with their typical stiff British upper lip.

Just look at the shelves in supermarkets, especially shelves that keep hand gels and toilet rolls.

Even shelves stacking rice and non-perishables are emptied as soon as they are restocked.

While we have yet to see the kind of pandemonium that happened in Australia, I am afraid that day might come soon despite assurances by the government that there will be no shortage of food.

With the list of infected people growing at an alarming rate in the UK and 10 deaths so far involving elderly people with medical history, people are waiting for the government to take a sterner action. Certain sectors have been badly hit.

Hotels’ cancellation rate is growing, with staff asked to voluntarily take unpaid leave.

However, banks have been quick to respond by suspending mortgage repayments, to the relief of many.

Unpaid voluntary leave is not a choice anymore.

In the media, Covid-19 has gained a “celebrity status” somewhat.

Big names such as Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson are now being isolated after being tested positive, followed by Arsenal's Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, throwing the Premier League into turmoil on Thursday night.

Across the border, Italian medical chief Roberto Stella, 67, died from respiratory failure due to Covid-19.

He become the most recent statistic among those he had treated, as the death toll in Italy jumped by 189 to 1,016 in the last 24 hours.

This has indeed underlined the risks faced by health front liners working under constraints of increasingly insufficient protection.

The Brazilian President who shook Trump’s hands, the British Junior Health Minister Nadine Dorries who worked closely with British Premier Boris Johnson were all tested positive.

However, like Trump, Johnson is not taking any tests, unlike the Canadian leader Justin Trudeau who has decided to work from home after wife, Sophie was tested positive after a speaking engagement in Britain.

His announcement Thursday on new measures to protect the British public from the deadly virus, were met with mixed responses.

Many including scientists warned that the measures were not enough, which led him to later propose banning mass gatherings beginning next weekend.

In his speech, Johnson said the government was entering its second phase of the response to Covid-19 — moving from trying to contain the virus to delaying its spread.

A lot of people will lose loved ones, he added.

Anyone with a new persistent cough or a high temperature will have to self-isolate and stay at home for seven days.

He also urged schools to cancel planned trips abroad.

But this is nothing new. What most people wanted to hear was for schools to close, something other countries are doing.

The Premier League has just suspended games until April only because some players and officials were tested positive.

Personally, I have decided to cancel an event that I am helping to organise.

While taking a consensus on whether the gathering of about 30 people should proceed, many in our chat group said they were already in self-isolation because their colleagues were infected.

And that is worrying enough to merit a cancellation.

Meanwhile, there’s still no joy scouring supermarkets and pharmacies for hand sanitisers.

An apology notice was pasted on the doors at a Boots pharmacy last night as they ran out of sanitisers.

A salesgirl explained the stock that arrived early in the morning were snapped up by people waiting at the door.

Other shops are imposing sales of only two bottles per customer.

Many have resorted to making their own sanitisers.

As a result, even the isopropyl alcohol, one of the ingredients for the sanitiser, has also run out. I just do not understand why the producers are so unprepared.

We have made several trips to superstores to get our food supplies, even for Gary the cat.

We hope that these, together with the supplies generously brought by friends from Malaysia such as serunding (dried meat floss), ikan bilis (anchovies), Brahim’s curry pastes and keropok (crackers) will see us through one of the most challenging periods in our lives.

The Malaysian High Commission has announced that Malaysia Hall has halted its Friday prayers service until further notice, while urging Malaysians including travellers to register with them.

Understandably, it is a time that worries and uncertainties are at an all-time high.

With that, I’d like to take a voluntary leave of absence from chat groups and fake news feeds and go into self-isolation.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

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