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LETTER | The way forward for shopping malls, moving towards the endemic

LETTER | Prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, shopping malls around the world have set themselves to be inseparable short getaways or quick hangout places for everyone, near and far.

Undeniably, the existence of these mega malls that anchor a large departmental store alongside a cluster of stores around it have given a sense towards a more meaningful living and lifestyle to a large segment of societies. From the elites cutting across through the middle class, almost everyone from each tier has somehow benefited in one way or another from this establishment.

As the field of architecture and structural engineering progresses along the years, the design of modern malls and fit-outs has managed to integrate conducive and therapeutic community spaces with indulgent shopping experiences, thus elevating our social interactions up to the next level. Frequently in the current age that we are living in, a shopping mall is more than just a concrete building by itself. It has successfully transitioned into a romantic or nostalgic rendezvous where memories were forged, cherished and engraved to make them last for decades.

When the Covid-19 pandemic emerged in 2019 all of a sudden, the whole shopping landscape had taken a major blow and was literally caught off guard, where retailers who used to operate their businesses from the comfort zones of the malls were compelled to shut down for umpteen months without much certainty. Due to the newness of this virus, scientists, as well as medical experts, had to scramble from scratch to understand its origin, genome behavioural and genetic variations of the deadly Covid-19. The whole working solutions took time.

Whereas for most of the retailers, the waiting game had just started and time was really money in retrospect. In other words, the longer that the retailers waited, the larger the financial impact would be on them.

Concurrently, the whole ideology of vaccination also began to kick-start, where top biologists and epidemiologists outlined the significance of their roles in preventing the further spread of Covid-19 and the race against time to produce the vaccines in bulk by the pharmaceutical companies gripped the news headlines. In short, an overarching solution to this bane is largely derived from all types of vaccines available which offer protection by means of our enhanced antibody system.

If we were to make further inquiries into how vaccines really work in our bodies, one would quickly figure out that the role of vaccines is to heighten or stimulate our immune system via the white blood cells in order to produce antibodies that fight the virus infection. However, one key question begs to be answered: Is the vaccine the ultimate bulletproof to bring us all back to normalcy or the pre-pandemic days?

Some studies have revealed that new variants of concerns, namely the Delta and Lambda, are shifting the herd-immunity equation into possible obscurity. Shweta Bansal, a mathematical biologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said: “Herd immunity is only relevant if we have a transmission-blocking vaccine. If we don’t, then the only way to get herd immunity in the population is to give everyone the vaccine.”

Bansal also emphasised that those who have been infected with Covid-19 seemed to have developed some sort of immunity to the virus (after recovery), but how long that will last remains unanswered. It also seems that infection-associated immunity wanes over time, so that needs to be factored into calculations too.

Basically, according to the experts, this probably foreshadows that the immunity might not last forever against our wishes. It could also possibly mean that those who have had already received their vaccinations could still transmit the deadly virus airborne to another living host.

Despite the extensive scientific publications related to Covid-19 available online, the misconception and the widespread belief that vaccination alone can fully cure those infected with Covid-19 is rather alarming among the public. What actually makes it worse is that the regulations tied to the vaccination by the authorities suggest that a fully vaccinated person has the unlimited freedom to mingle face-to-face and interact freely. Now, if we were to carefully read between the lines, the truth is that no one is yet safe from this deadly virus.

Based on this judgment, a blanket ban by certain mall operators on all unvaccinated persons from entering the shopping malls beginning Sept 15, 2021, has to be re-examined taking into consideration that vaccinated individuals with double doses can still be the main source of transmission. This action is deemed shortsighted and slapdash to a certain extent as it outrightly discriminates the rights of unvaccinated shoppers who mostly are still waiting for their turns to get the vaccines administered as well as the rights of the retailers to gain more customers.

Surely, everyone understands the importance of being vaccinated. However, this particular ban ruling does not justify or corroborate the whole concept of vaccination. In short, the common denominator that both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons have is the fact that they can still transmit and be infected with Covid-19.

On Sept 4, 2021, a total of 19,057 Covid-19 cases were reported in Malaysia. Interestingly, 4,939 cases or 23.1 percent of reported cases were individuals who had received at least one vaccination shot or have not passed 14 days from their second shot. Meanwhile, a total of 6,120 cases or 32.1 percent of Covid-19 positive cases have completed vaccination history. These statistics from the Ministry of Health are again telling us that vaccinated persons are still not out of the danger yet.

Managing the economy in the midst of a pandemic is the test of a balancing act between the safety and livelihood of our people. In hindsight, shopping malls could probably not have undergone closure for such a long period of time during the lockdowns, if only the SOPs, especially those closely related to the accommodation of foreign workers across all industries, were strictly enforced and implemented to safeguard the interests of retailers and their loyal customers.

In business, best practices involve the implementation of well-thought initiatives that are proven to be effective in achieving greater end results. In this case, adhering to the SOPs is the way forward. The mall management should work hand-in-hand with the relevant agencies more aggressively in order to allocate more auxiliary police and Rela officers to perform close surveillance on the SOPs.

Better still, qualified SOPs marshals ought to be hired on a permanent basis and stationed in the mall(s) to carry out these responsibilities and eventually to reduce the reliance on random SOPs checks by the authorities. Like it or not, the mall management has to lead by example in providing out-of-the-box solutions to cater for both vaccinated and unvaccinated shoppers. On top of this, the onus of prevention should also be shifted to retailers overseen by the mall management.

It goes without saying that the mall operators must consistently play their part to actively educate the public about the importance of adhering to the SOPs instead of sending the wrong message about the real purpose of vaccination that it can cure Covid-19 permanently.

‘Medio tutissimus ibis’ i.e. ‘You will go most safely by the middle course.’This phrase aptly fits the current situation that we are all in, where taking the extreme side will not grant us the most winnable solution with respect to the economy, health and safety.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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