As Covid-19 pandemic rages on, some frontliners say losing heart as cases keep rising

One thing all the frontliners agreed on was that vaccination was the only sure way to defeat the pandemic. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
One thing all the frontliners agreed on was that vaccination was the only sure way to defeat the pandemic. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 — Malaysia’s health workers battling the Covid-19 pandemic are struggling to remain hopeful amid a renewed wave of infections, after already more than a year with the coronavirus.

Several medical frontliners who spoke to Malay Mail on the condition of anonymity said they have already made repeated personal sacrifices in the war against Covid-19, not including the effort they have already put in.

Some said they have sacrificed time with their families and missed seeing their own children grow up as they have not been able to afford time off since the third wave of infections swept through the country.

Others said the hectic schedule meant little opportunity to lead normal lives and some said there were those who have been forced to put off personal plans and goals in order to serve in the battle against Covid-19.

Malaysia has seen an alarming uptick in positive cases with the numbers close to 5,000 per day this past week, which have also come close to exhausting the country’s intensive care capacity.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah admitted yesterday that the frontliners were mentally and physically exhausted, and sought to rally them on in the fight against Covid-19 that is set to worsen with the rise of new variants of concern (VOC).

One medical doctor doing her housemanship in a Perak hospital told Malay Mail many of the frontliners have been taken from their specialist clinics and thrown into the deep end of the Covid-19 machinery.

Those who wanted to further their studies were not allowed to do so and sent to various states to help with the pandemic.

Frontliners were also disheartened as it appeared that the recent iterations movement control order (MCO) have not been able to fully suppress the spread of the disease.

“Seems like the MCO is not working as things seem to be just like normal. I feel the first MCO was better.

“Many feel that things could be handled differently. Like not opening the bazaars and markets as enforcing SOPs (standard operating procedures) will be difficult. 

“When cases rise, we have to call our annual leave short or cancel it and we cannot do our specialist studies. For example a friend of mine wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon but she’s been sent to Sabah and Sarawak to very rural areas to help with contact tracing and not just to big hospitals. 

“That’s why we need better enforcement of the SOPs, not allowing open areas for many people to congregate like the bazaar. If not we can keep having MCOs but people will still try to sneak across state lines while the police will struggle to keep up,” she said.

While cases started declining in February after MCO 2.0 was enforced, Covid-19 infections began surging again in April, less than two months after restrictions were relaxed.

Yesterday, Malaysia reported another 4,855 cases and 27 deaths. More importantly for health workers was the fact that active case numbers were now over 41,000.

Critical patients in intensive care units (ICU) and requiring ventilators have repeatedly hit new daily highs, reaching 481 and 247 yesterday, respectively.

“Lots of disappointed and disheartened people,” one Klang Valley hospital frontliner said of the recent deterioration in Malaysia’s Covid-19 situation.

“At times we’re short staffed and, with cases rising, we have to send two personnel and not one to the Covid assessment centres. Some of us have to wear the PPE (personal protective equipment) from 8am till 5pm and even with breaks in between it's tough; now imagine doing it for more than a year, everyday you go to work.

“Deep down, many of us are praying to get this whole thing sorted out quickly and clear out as many people as fast as possible but when you see the numbers your heart breaks. 

“This current streak is bad as each day we’re seeing hundreds of cases at the clinics and even though we have better systems in place it’s still worrying when at one point you thought things were finally settling down and then boom, here we go again,” she said.

Aside from the latest MCO, Malaysia is also in a nationwide state of Emergency, a measure under the Federal Constitution that has not been invoked for decades.

At the time, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the move was to empower the government to take extraordinary measures to combat the pandemic, which included sharply raising the penalties for breaching the preventive SOPs.

However, non-compliance continues to be an issue, with Dr Noor Hisham previously conceding that pandemic fatigue was setting in.

“Public are desensitised. We can scare them with RM50,000 fines and so on but some people care while others don’t,” a medical officer at a hospital in the Klang Valley told Malay Mail.

“The system is not as good as it should be. I had a friend tell me he was in close contact with someone positive. He went to the district health clinic and because he had no symptoms he was told to go home.

“Being a good samaritan, he went and paid for a private test, came back positive, he self isolated himself at home and informed everyone near him to get checked, after 14 days he came out healthy and best part is he never wore the pink band,” the officer said.

Aside from accelerating the National Immunisation Programme, the person said the authorities should also review the existing Covid-19 testing protocol.

“The voluntary AstraZaneca rollout, I think, was brilliant; it meant more people vaccinated leading to, hopefully, less infected people.

“But if they come in for testing after their areas are considered a cluster or they have close contact and we check them one by one, use one kit per person, it’ll take a long time. We should pool our testing methods so we can test faster and save time and money,” he said.

“Not only that, some of the policies lately have not made sense like no need to quarantine after returning from Sabah. Then recently they said MCO in Klang then after that nationwide. 

“So, there are no standard guidelines, no engagement with the public or lack thereof and a lack of effective communication which then leads to another lockdown and the people suffer for it.”

One thing all the frontliners agreed on was that vaccination was the only sure way to defeat the pandemic, with all of them stating their complete confidence in the vaccines selected for deployment in Malaysia.

All said they hoped the government could procure more vaccines and roll these out as soon as possible.

“Since we’re under lockdown, now is the best time to go and target areas with high density or high infectivity rate and vaccinate the entire population. 

“It may kill the economy but to target, isolate and vaccinate the community, this is the best time since people are stuck in their homes,” they said.

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