SQUARE PEGS IN ROUND HOLES: THE ANTI-VAXXER IN A PANDEMIC

How come when you’re talking to God, it’s called praying but when God’s talking to you, it’s schizophrenia. – Complaint of the anti-vaxxer.

We received our Pfizer booster shots two weeks ago. Most people awaiting vaccination at the community centre near our apartment in Singapore were young, probably taking their first doses but there were at least three who were clearly older than us.

They looked scared and we realised they had to be those who’d delayed their shots for whatever reason. The pressure probably got too much for them.

Like Malaysia, there is no law in Singapore that compels vaccination. But the city-state has made it very difficult for non-vaxxers to get by.

They can’t get into malls, restaurants cinemas, parks, even hawker centres – where most people go when they eat out.

On Thursday, Singapore lowered the boom again. Previously, people admitted to hospital for Covid-19 were treated free of charge. Now, non-vaxxers could face charges of up to S$25,000 for full treatment until discharge.

In matters of vaccination, I submit that he who hesitates is a damn fool who will get sick and worse.

Here, we have good news and bad news.
First, the good news. Global studies have indicated that only a very small proportion of anti-vaxxers are the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorists who believe that either Bill Gates, George Soros or Elvis Presley, or a combination of all three thereof, is working with Big Pharma to force vaccines into the bloodstreams of Everyman to achieve Global Dominance.

One suspects that their numbers might be higher in the United State where reason, apparently, counts for not much.

There’s very little that can be done for such folk except Prozac and a map to the nearest asylum.

Even so, most hesitaters are just that, people who procrastinate out of ignorance, habit, anxiety or, simply because of stuff they’ve read on the Internet. Through measures like those in Malaysia or Singapore, these people can generally be steered to safety.

Even so, it will take its time coming, for their numbers are legion. They range from 10-20% in the United Kingdom through to 50% in France and, most surprisingly to me at least, 60% in Japan. This is according to the BBC.

There aren’t any comparable numbers for the US but one suspects they might be higher.

Because of its computerised documentation, Singapore knows exactly how many people living on the island are unvaccinated, but it isn’t saying. It’s less clear in Malaysia. Nonetheless, their numbers are still significant. Example: it was revealed recently that 27,000 civil servants remained unvaccinated. This is unacceptable as they constitute a danger to themselves, their families, and the public at large.

The pandemic’s not going away anytime soon and that’s rapidly getting to be a problem. In Malaysia, the infectivity rate has begun reversing and has now gone back to 1. And the UK’s hospitals are now so crowded that you can only get in by accident.

I think it is time to concede that it is no longer tenable to frame the notion of vaccination as a matter of “personal choice.”

When that choice encroaches into the realm of “public health”, it cannot and will not hold.

Indeed, it should never hold.

ENDS

THIS TOO SHALL PASS: NOT SOON ENOUGH

Singapore’s Channel News Asia is good at detailing the rigours afflicting its neighbours, the better, presumably, to show the city state’s administrative superiority. But it’s accurate, and the other day, it showed pictures of Serdang Hospital: a large tent under which patients drowsed on lines of camp beds that stretched to the car park, a sight simultaneously sad and pitiful, like a stanza out of Dante. There are worse stories. Klang Hospital is, apparently, running out of oxygen.

God bless our medical front-liners. They are, hands-down, the heroes of this crisis. My admiration for them is unbounded and the fact that they continue to go to work every day, uncomplainingly, is a miracle.

Take L, a skin specialist, compelled to help at the Covid ward at Serdang Hospital. The work, she says is non-stop: a daily grind of pressure and heartbreak in a hazmat suit.

And clap for the generous Malaysian. An hour after a doctor at Serdang Hospital urgently called for buns and bottled water, 400 of each, for his patients, swiftly relayed WhatsApp messages resulted in its delivery, courtesy of a Rotary Club chapter near the hospital

These are the country’s unsung heroes, not those clowns in government. I mean, don’t you just hate it when old men dream up new tricks to remain in power?

This Perikatan Naasional government seems fearful of being accountable for its decisions. For some reason, they do not want their decisions scrutinised by Parliament. Why not table its resolutions to revoke the Emergency ordinances before Parliament and subject it to debate?

That’s Democracy 101. It’s also basic courtesy after months of hiding under the skirts of an ersatz Emergency. Skulking around and then trying to push through a retrospective revocation of the emergency ordinances only signals something to hide, a whiff of fire and unholy smoke.

On Thursday, in an unheard-of display of royal pique, the King singled out Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan for “misleading” Parliament. There had, apparently, been a meeting between the King, the Minister and the Attorney General previously where the King had made clear that he wanted the revocation of the Emergency ordinances to be tabled and debated by Parliament before he consented to it.

The subsequent explanation from the PM’s office on Friday danced around the issue and never addressed the question of whether the King consented to the PN’s revocations. Did he sign off on it?

Nope. Neither did Parliament get a chance to debate anything. Takiyuddin coolly told Parliament that there was no need for debate as the Cabinet had done away with the revocations a week ago ergo there was nothing to get excited about.

Now if this was an action of the previous PH government, what do you think would have happened? Remember, also, the Law Minister then was one Liew Vui Keong from Sabah and the AG was a certain Tommy Thomas. I think we can safely assume that police reports would have piled up faster than an Usain Bolt on steroids. And the cries of treason would have reached near-hysteria.

Why is the government so fearful of scrutiny?

The simple answer is that they are loath to provide explanations: for the billions they have spent without legislative approval, for their dismal management of the pandemic.

The outbreak shows no sign of abating despite months of lockdown. The caseload now exceeds 1 million and continues to grow at an alarming pace.

Malaysia has always prided itself on its health system. Among developing countries, we were among the earliest to bring life expectancies and infant mortality rates on par with the developed world.

Now the system is breaking down. We are closing on 9,000 deaths from Covid and averaging 100-200 fatalities a day. The bodies are piling up, but the government insists that everything is “under control.”

This too shall pass. Meanwhile, you know what they say: some people are wise while some are otherwise.

ENDS

INSTANT KARMA DID GET HIM AFTER ALL

I should make one thing clear. It’s not that I disagree with President Trump’s foreign policy or his notions about healthcare. It’s just that he’s a lunatic sent here to destroy the world that gets to me. 

I mean, did you watch the debate? 

I watched it, first in incredulity, then in shock and anger. I don’t know why I should feel that way as I’m not a citizen and, God knows, my country has enough of its own problems. But, I suppose, the US and its actions ultimately affect all of us. 

I have a brother and two nephews living and working there and both my wife and I have had postgraduate stints in the States. And there is its reach – its literature, its art and its films – which has, one way or another, influenced many of us. 

Therefore, you expect the President of the United States to behave in a certain way, an approach exemplified by President Barack Obama – with wit, charm and an innate decency. 

You do not expect a showing like last Tuesday where President Trump exhibited all the tact and charm of a bull in a china shop. He bullied, he harangued, and he interrupted and trampled all over the moderator, the hapless Chris Wallace. 

It reminded me of the truth of the Mel Brooks quote: “Presidents don’t do it to their wives, they do it to their country.”

And when asked squarely to criticise white supremacist hate groups like the Proud Boys, he balked, or he couldn’t. And that only encourage the group: it promptly adopted his phrase – “stand back and stand by” – as their new handle. And that’s a group identified by the FBI as an extremist organisation. 

As I write this, I have just heard that both President Trump and his wife have tested positive for Covid-19. I’m stumped and all I can say is that John Lennon’s song Instant Karma comes to mind. 

This might finally jolt the people of the United States into waking up to the dangers of the disease, to listen to the doctors and finally let science lead the way in fighting the disease. 

It might also teach the President – not holding my breath here though – a lesson or two on the perils of hubris. 

While convalescing or in quarantine, the President will be well advised to read up on world affairs and perhaps catch up with American history. 

The reason I say this, is the fact that the President’s favourite rooms in the White House are, in order, the Lincoln Room, the Roosevelt Room and the Oval Office. And he still thinks that President Oval was the one who came after James Garfield. 

So far it appears that the President is fine and you have to hand it to the American people for the news seems to have finally united them in the sense that everyone, including his Democratic adversaries, praying for his recovery. 

With one voice, they’ve also urged him to avoid hydroxychloroquine and bleach like the plague. 

TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME

We left Singapore last Thursday. 

It had to be by land crossing if we wanted to abide by a newly signed agreement between Kuala Lumpur and the Republic.  

So, we decided to drive home by way of the Tuas crossing. 

At the Malaysian checkpoint, we both had to download the My Sejahtera app and, numerous questions later, followed a pleasant, female Immigration official to the medical tent where a guy decked out in full PPE regalia sat awaiting us. The poor guy: it must have been at least 32 degrees in the shade and for all that, he was remarkably good natured. 

He took two swabs from each of us: one from the throat and the other, from deep within our noses. For each, he had to change gloves. 

No wonder Top Glove shares are rocketing. 

The official said the tests would come back in 2-3 days and we would be quarantined for the duration. For the record, the tests cost RM200 each.  

Since we’d asked for a hotel, the only one serving as a place of quarantine was a KSL Hot Springs Resort in Johore Bahru.

It turned out to be in Tebrau and the “Hot Springs” business may have been in the copywriter’s imagination. In any case, we signed some forms, paid the deposit and were promptly locked up in a room on the 9th floor. 

There was a chair placed immediately outside the door. Our meals, towels etc, were placed on said chair after which the doorbell would be rung. It was like getting to know your food, Pavlov-style. 

The two days that passed were interminable and I shudder to think how it would have been had we attempted an earlier crossing and undergone the whole two-week quarantine. 

At 11.30 am on Saturday, we received a call from the authorities telling us we’d tested negative and could leave. Even so, we had to take our temperatures and answer a series of questions on our My Sejahtera apps every day for the next two weeks. We were free to go but it was made clear to us that we would be “under surveillance” for a fortnight. 

As is her wont, Rebecca turned out to be a minor celebrity there and, after we’d signed the necessary paperwork, everyone including the cops and the immigration authorities wanted to take pictures with her. 

As is my wont, I stood off to the side and, sure enough, no one noticed! I only wonder if anyone found it ironic that everyone in the pictures was masked.  

There were about 30 of us quarantined in the hotel and while we never met, we were placed in a single WhatsApp chat group which my wife kept track of. 

One of the guys, Fahmi was back from Singapore because his father was critically sick. On his first night of quarantine, unfortunately, his father died. He had to wait another day before he was found negative and allowed to go. 

It’s nice to be home and even the traffic isn’t as irritating as it used to be. The My Sejahtera app is also a distinct improvement on the one we had to use in Singapore. It’s faster and more efficient with much more common-sensical usage. Example: in Singapore, you have to both check-in and out while it’s just one way here.  

Everything’s ok except the politics and the new government which I believe the majority of us did not vote for. That sucks big-time.