Postcard From Zaharah: Living Cautiously with Covid

LONDON: Yesterday, my daughter-in-law and I were pushing our trolley between the aisles at our local oriental store when she burst out laughing.

She reminded me of the moment more than two years ago, when we pushed a much bigger trolley with enough packets of plain flour to start a bakery.

Most other stores, including supermarkets, were running out of plain flour at the time.

In a household that has a typical Malaysian appetite, we needed to make sure that we had enough stock of flour for jemput-jemput pisang, corn fritters and karipap to keep us happy during the lockdown, which at the time, had no end in sight.

In other supermarkets, we heard people were fighting over toilet rolls.

Yes, we could laugh now as the British prime minister had just announced the Living with Covid Plan.

Since the pandemic started two years ago, restrictions have been lifted, especially those pertaining to social distancing, dining out, wearing face masks and testing.

Travellers are also no longer required to undergo quarantine at hotels. People are no longer required to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid-19.

However, they are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days.

On the day we ventured out to go to the oriental shop just behind the house two years ago, we arrived to join a long queue of masked up people pushing sanitised trolleys, standing patiently behind hastily-stuck black stickers to mark the 2m distance behind the next shopper.

Back then, we were living in an era where we were told what to do for our safety — stand 2m apart from one another, avoid sitting in front of other people, catch your sneeze in a tissue and many more. All those signs are no longer to be seen.

The oriental shop then had just recovered from being shunned by people who feared that the virus came from China and all things Chinese.

Inside, the queue was managed in a one-way route with no turning back. Only three counters were opened.

We bought our necessities and called an Uber ride for transport home.

The Uber driver was sitting in front of a self-made screen that separated us from him. It was made of domestic cling film wrapped around the two front seats.

In the pockets of each seat were sanitisers and wipes to make sure we use them when entering the vehicle.

After arriving home, we washed our hands with soap for 20 seconds or while singing Happy Birthday (the length of time needed to wash hands thoroughly), before proceeding to sanitise the packages of the foodstuff that we had bought.

I looked at the paraphernalia that I had acquired to keep my family and I safe — all manner of face masks and face shields — even those that looked like the ones used by beekeepers, with nozzle-like tubes that would help you breathe behind masks and prevent glasses from getting foggy. I even made my own reusable batik masks.

In those days, just two years ago, it seemed that we were going to have to do these measures for the rest of our lives — the new norms that have been enforced on us by Covid-19.

Yesterday, walking along the streets in London, I saw some groups of Malaysians with their Marks & Spencer and Selfridges shopping bags.

Friends who shop in Bicester Village, too, reported the return of Malaysian shoppers and personal shoppers to the popular shopping venue.

With the relaxing of rules pertaining to the pandemic by many countries, especially with the opening of borders, more and more people are travelling.

Many countries, especially Britain, are learning to live with Covid-19, while others are still cautious but are bound to follow suit soon as the economies are suffering.

The community in London has welcomed the revival of some community activities at Malaysia Hall, such as a charity event organised by Mercy Malaysia UK (MMUK) where hundreds flocked to what used to be the canteen to buy Malaysian food sold by vendors.

Student activities have also been held there, with one to be held soon with Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz.

A few nights ago, the surau there came alive again with the celebration of Nisfu Syaaban and I gather, plans are in place for the whole month of Ramadan.

For a long time, the Malaysian Muslim community here was not able to do such activities because of strict restrictions. Posters are already out about the much missed Malaysian Carnival at the Tun Abdul Razak Rubber Research Centre in July.

More and more international events are being held at exhibition centres around Britain, with participation by Malaysian companies.

There are several Malaysian companies attending the International Food Exhibition next week, followed by the Muslim Shopping Festival, both to be held at EXCEL here.

Lateral flow tests are no longer required, although it is still advisable to do so.

This is all happening as Malaysians in the United Kingdom are rejoicing Malaysia's relaxing of restrictions with regard to quarantine for international travellers.

Those with non-Malaysian spouses and children, who have not seen their family members for the past two years, now heave a sigh of relief.

Having said this, the number of cases has just picked up again and the World Health Organisation has warned that the pandemic is not yet over — and that we have to learn to live with Covid-19. Cautiously.

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