Adjusting to the new norm

Papua New Guinea needs you to be part of building a healthy, safe and liveable future, DR TAKESHI KASAI writes.

THESE days, many countries, including PNG, are making complex decisions about how to live with the Covid-19, or adapt to what some have called the “new normal”.
Governments are reviewing the measures put in place to control the outbreak in its initial phase, and looking at which of these may be lifted.
While it may feel like we’ve been living under the Covid-19 control measures for a long time, this is still a new virus.
The truth is, we are all learning as we go, and we may not get it perfect the first time.

Foreign Minister Patrick Pruaitch talking to Chinese ambassador to Papua New Guinea Xue Bing at the Port Moresby General Hospital recently. The World Health Organisation has called for Papua New Guineans to adapt to a new way of living, working and interacting. – Xinhuafilepic

If the virus starts to spread in the community, we may need to bring back measures that have been eased.
The important things are that we remain flexible, guided by the evidence on the situation as it evolves, and everyone works together to get through this.
The sacrifices you’ve made over the past few months have made a huge difference.
Without the temporary closures of shops, offices and schools, as well as stay-at-home orders, restrictions on travel and postponement of religious and cultural events, hundreds of people could have been infected in Papua New Guinea.
These measures and your adherence to them helped to prevent transmission of the Covid-19, stopped health facilities from being overwhelmed and saved lives.
But “lockdown” measures have also made life very difficult for hundreds of people and had devastating impacts on economies and societies.
Countless people lost their jobs and means of supporting their families, with the poor being most affected.
Those with “essential” jobs have worked tirelessly, putting themselves in harm’s way to maintain lifelines and health services for the rest of us.
While some measures may now be gradually lifted, this is not a signal that the fight is over.
Unfortunately, this is going to be a long battle.
In the interconnected world in which we live, as long as the virus is still circulating, and until there is a safe and effective vaccine available to everyone, no country is safe from new cases and waves of infection.
The challenge before us now is to protect public health and maintain readiness for new waves of the Covid-19, while at the same time, restarting the economy and our lives.
It’s a mistake to choose between these.
In fact, we need to improve the health of people and economies, by working together across all sectors of society.
The big decisions that countries now face should be taken by experts on health and economies, as well as community members and entrepreneurs, together, around one table.
We are already seeing the fruits of such collaboration.
New and creative initiatives have been unleashed in the wake of the Covid-19.
For example, a much wider range of products and service – from farmers’ produce to health services – are literally being delivered on people’s doorsteps.
Some of these new initiatives may provide solutions for problems we have been struggling with for a long time, for example reaching people who have previously been missed out.
Other features of the “new normal” are that we must all continue the Covid-19 prevention practices, such as social distancing in public places, frequently cleaning our hands and staying home if we’re sick.
But it’s about more than just changing behaviours – we need to change our attitudes.

A health worker carrying out a door-to-door testing near Durban in South Africa. – Reuterspic

In the new normal, each of us is responsible not just for ourselves, but for the health and wellbeing of our families, colleagues and broader community.
It’s all of our jobs to listen to the science, stick to the prevention policies even as they shift, and support the vulnerable around us.
This is a region with a strong sense of community and a strong culture of supporting the vulnerable.
I urge everyone in Papua New Guinea – from food sellers, to teachers, to the prime minister – to remain focused and engaged.
The road ahead will require solidarity, unity, vigilance and patience.
Please join us in adapting to a new way of living, working and interacting.
The more each of us does our part, the more we can bring back economic and social life, while staying safe.
Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to build a healthy, safe and liveable future in PNG.

  • Dr Takeshi Kasai is the World Health Organisation regional director for the Western Pacific

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