Way forward for shopping malls as Covid turns endemic

PRIOR to the outbreak of 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 other stores has given a sense of a more meaningful living and lifestyle to a large segment of society.

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 has progressed through 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, 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 took a major blow and was caught off guard, where retailers used to doing business 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 the medical experts had to scramble from scratch to understand its origin, genome and genetic variations. 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.

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 enquiries into how vaccines really work in our bodies, you would quickly figure out that the role of vaccine 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 bullet-proofing to bring us all back to normalcy or the pre-pandemic days?

Some studies have revealed that new variants of concern – 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 for 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 the immunity might not last forever. 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 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 vaccinated person has the unlimited freedom to mingle face-to-face and interact.

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, beginning September 15, has to be re-examined taking into consideration that vaccinated individuals with two doses can still be the main source of transmission.

This action is deemed short-sighted and slapdash to a certain extent as it outrightly discriminates against the rights of unvaccinated shoppers, who mostly are still waiting for their turn to get vaccinated, as well as the rights of the retailers to gain more customers.

Surely, everyone understands the importance of being vaccinated. However, this particular ban 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 September 4, a total of 19,057 Covid-19 cases were reported in Malaysia. It is interesting that 4,939 cases or 23.1% 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% 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 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 standard operating procedures (SOP) – 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 SOP is the way forward. The mall management should work hand-in-hand with the agencies more aggressively in order to allocate more auxiliary police and Rela officers to perform close surveillance using the SOP.

Better still, qualified SOP 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 SOP checks by the authorities.

Like it or not, the mall management has to lead by example in providing outside 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 SOP instead of sending the wrong message about the real purpose of vaccination that it can cure Covid-19 permanently.

‘Medio tutissimus ibis’, ie ‘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 economy, health and safety. – September 7, 2021.

* Aisyah reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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