Editorial | Eight weeks

Paulo Coutinho

It’s eight weeks since the first contagion of the new virus was detected in Macau.

Over this period the community has given a tremendous example to the world on how to behave in the face of this insidious natural enemy.

What we did as a community was to understand, profoundly, that the “enemy” has a tremendous advantage over us. He is invisible. Even if he touches one of us, he may not acknowledge the “encounter,” and we may not feel it while unknowingly infecting others in our social circle.

This is what many countries in the world fail to understand. We use masks to protect ourselves even as we know the protection is fallible. Who we protect, mostly, is the person next to us: on a bus, in the workplace, in the market, in a shop, in a queue at the bank or waiting for a public service.

We wear masks to protect ourselves, but they mostly protect others. The effect of “everybody” wearing masks is that “everybody” is protected. Does it work? Apparently, it does.

The Macau government went the extra mile last week in safeguarding its citizens abroad, announcing a program to acquire medical masks locally and have them sent to Macau students abroad.

The system is beautifully simple. The student fills a form while in the place of his/her current residence, and indicates the ID card of a person nominated to buy the masks (only ten every ten days for 8 patacas). In seconds the student receives an SMS on the cell phone in his/her country of current residence, takes a screen shot and sends it to the designated person, usually a parent living and working in Macau.

When arriving at the collection location, on a chosen day and hour, the designated person just has to show the screenshot and go through the usual procedure as if to enter a government building (or a casino): completes a 24-hour valid health declaration, presents a Macau ID and offers their forehead for a body temperature reading.

Once inside, after getting your sealed 10-mask pack, you also have the option to immediately dispatch it at the next counter installed by the postal service (CTT).

There is only one shortcoming: the cheapest option to ship the masks will take two full weeks to reach the recipients if they study in Europe or America. So, by the time a parent sends out a second pack by snail mail the recipient will have already run out of stock. A change to 20 masks per request would solve the problem.

Apart from that, what struck me was the clever high-tech operation of the ordering platform and its simplicity. That requires a mind used to dealing with ones and zeros as well as managing resources. A coder who, by default, hates to write unnecessary code.

I think, in all this process we are starting to see the “magical” hand and mind of Macau’s master programmer: Secretary Ao Ieong U, herself a programmer and former head of the Identification Bureau who brought it into the 21st century.

But we still have to be cautious about the (healthy) evolution of the situation in Macau, which has been praised and noticed the world over. Next door in Zhongshan, two new cases were reported yesterday, while Zhuhai hasn’t had a case for over 20 days.

A final note on the late response of the World Health Organization – because the state of pandemic should have been declared weeks ago by all standards. Saying that they didn’t do it before to “avoid panic” is disastrous. Guess who’s panicking now? The world.

Categories Editorial Macau