Covid-19 cases worldwide have crossed the 31 million mark and fatalities linked to it are approaching a million. While the United States tops the morbidity count with over seven million cases, India, with nearly 5.5 million, now has the second highest number of recorded cases worldwide – and by most accounts, the disease is out of control across the vast nation. European nations from Denmark to Spain have announced new restrictions to curb surging numbers in their cities, and in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who not long ago spoke of the “inalienable right of the British to go to the pub”, has hinted at a second lockdown amid an “inevitable” second wave. Even Singapore has had more than 57,600 cases and 27 deaths.
The cost in terms of human life and livelihood is already colossal, with no end in sight. Jobs continue to be shed in countries at a frightening pace as many companies tighten their belts in the face of collapsing demand and dwindling state support. Against this background, some argue that only a form of herd immunity can be a bulwark against the disease. But scientists estimate that it might take two-thirds of the population to gain immunity before this is reached. Hence only the introduction of an effective and inexpensive vaccine is the real antidote, since with this people can develop immunity without contracting the coronavirus. If not, the cost to society and economies would simply continue to be catastrophic.
In Singapore, people are generally known to be socially aware and cooperative. But even here, Covid-19 weariness, confidence stemming from improving knowledge about treating the disease, and the evident success in preventing it from spreading too widely in the community have led some to feel they can afford to drop their guard. Last weekend, for instance, crowds were spotted at food and beverage establishments in places such as Tanjong Pagar and Bugis. While all wore masks, too many were seen in close proximity to one another. Some restaurants have also reported attempts to game the rules, with groups making multiple bookings to get around safe distancing restrictions.
All this is a pity. The dyke against this tsunami of a disease can hold only if individuals play their part to ensure there is no breach in the wall. Frustrating as it is to have to mask up in public, refrain from dining out in large groups and limit the numbers who can attend events such as weddings, sensible curbs on free movement and assembly nevertheless remain the first line of defence and an enduring and practical weapon in the fight against the disease. All the more reason that a few headstrong risk-takers should not be the cause for the wider society to suffer – if not by them contracting the virus, then from the real potential of a tighter clampdown on mixing and movement. The gains of the past few months must be preserved.