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COVID-19: When can we resume our lives without masks?

COVID-19. When will it end? How will it end? These are questions on everyone’s lips. There are no clear answers. Experts think the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will never go away. They say COVID-19 will cease to be a pandemic in a few years. But it will be endemic. Much like flu.

So what happens? Like the influenza virus, the new coronavirus too will be around us. It will continue to mutate, so our researchers will have to keep updating the vaccines. This means we will have to take shots periodically to protect ourselves from newer variants.

Not a comforting thought, I know. At the moment, it looks like it. I guess we will learn to live with the virus. After all, our lives can’t be held hostage by a microbe, even if it’s a pathogen. Looking back at the last 15 months, we have done well. We have adjusted to a new normal — a life that includes face masks and sanitisers.

But we shouldn’t be lulled in complacence. The coronavirus has wreaked mayhem worldwide, killing more than 3.7 million people: many of them our friends and relatives. And the threat is far from over. So we should remain vigilant as we continue to live our lives.

COVID-19 muddled medical science

This is no ordinary virus. It can kill. But with proper safeguards, we can beat the virus. I have. So did millions of others. But if you have pre-existing health issues, don’t waste time. If you are infected, seek medical help as early as possible.

The mortality rate hasn’t changed much for more than a year. So we don’t have to be scared, but we’ve to be careful since variants have become the new menace.

The coronavirus has totally upended all expectations. I was wrong last year when I wrote the next big news break would trump COVID-19. But at the time, it wasn’t yet a pandemic. Having followed the outbreaks of mad cow disease, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, Sars, Mers and several other epidemics, which had the potential to become pandemics, I was sure that COVID-19 too would fade away. And I have absolute faith in medical science. It has advanced so much that I was confident that there wouldn’t be a repeat of a Spanish flu-like situation of 1918-20.

Life’s near normal in the UAE

COVID-19 is a reminder of how much we don’t know. Forget the search for lives in other galaxies; we still don’t fully understand the human body. We don’t know all our organs and their full functions. The mesentery, which connects the intestine to the stomach, was classified as the 79th organ in the human body only in 2017. Medical science has come a long way (we got COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year, a record), but it still has a long way to go.

The new coronavirus has muddled the field for doctors and researchers. Blood clots are an issue, so is the long COVID, where the symptoms persist long after patients recover from infections. The full impact and the ramifications of a COVID-19 infection are yet to be understood. So we’ve to be patient if any of us or our relatives and friends are hospitalised. Even healthy people have to follow the safety protocols; there could be undiagnosed health issues that could endanger their lives.

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All is not gloom and doom. India may be struggling with the second wave of infections, but we can take heart from the recovery of the United States and Europe. Remember how Italy, Spain, Iran, France and the United Kingdom reeled from the onslaught of the virus. Look how they overcame the health crisis. No deaths have been reported from Britain, and the US have opened up public places for vaccinated people.

Here in the UAE, our life is close to normal. All credit should go to the government and its timely action. School closures, temporary shuttering of non-emergency businesses, disinfection programme, field hospitals, and medical assistance helped contain the spread of the virus. It helped partially open the economy as early as September with strict guidelines. The people in the country too deserve plaudits for following the safety protocols diligently, which helped keep the infections down.

How vaccinations helped

Free vaccinations have helped inoculate much of the country. Schools and offices have resumed operations. Restaurants, cinemas, parks and other leisure activities are in full swing. Life is close to normal. Our lives are buzzing again.

Masks, let's keep it. The time to ditch it hasn't come. The virus is still lurking. So, let's also maintain social distancing, and wash or sanitise hands frequently. We’ve kept COVID-19 at bay, and resumed our lives. Let’s keep it that way.