KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31— The prolonged Covid-19 pandemic continues to cripple countries around the world with its devastating health, social and economic consequences.
Despite the unprecedented situation, what has been keeping the nation intact is the sense of resilience, solidarity and unity among Malaysians.
More than a year on, there are frontliners who continue to work tirelessly to keep Malaysians safe.
To celebrate the 64th National Day, Malay Mail reached out to frontline healthcare workers, non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives and volunteers to find out what keeps them united in the war against Covid-19.
Committed to serve
Despite the risks of being exposed to the highly contagious disease every day, healthcare frontliners have been carrying out their duties in the best way possible since the pandemic hit Malaysia last year.
University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) infectious disease head Assoc Prof Dr Sharifah Faridah Syed Omar said they have experienced many ups and downs while dealing with the multiple Covid-19 waves.
“Different timelines had different challenges and scenarios for us,” she told Malay Mail.
“We have definitely grown stronger; from not knowing anything at all [about Covid-19], to tackling the disease with more experience and knowledge now.”
According to Dr Sharifah Faridah, medicine isn’t just about knowledge, facts and figures, but also involves elements such as emotions and social circumstances.
“The latest wave of infections has been more challenging for us, not just because of the rising number of new infections, but mainly due to seeing sicker patients,” she added.
She also noted that the prolonged pandemic is now putting more pressure on the healthcare system as fatigue hits staff.
“We had to examine closely all aspects of the pandemic to ensure our staff receive the much-needed support to last the long-haul rather than just a few weeks,” she said.
Dr Sharifah Faridah also said the situation at the beginning of August almost brought her to her knees, but she managed to bounce back and carry out her duties.
“That was when our daily cases were very high. We were running out of beds and medication,” she said.
“The virus was getting closer to us personally, as we could see friends and relatives being infected.”
Thanks to the vaccination rollout, however, Dr Sharifah Faridah said there was a glimmer of hope when she saw a slight dip in the number of severe cases.
“It is that glimmer of hope that gives us the motivation to come back to work every day to push a little more,” she said.
While one group of frontliners continues to save lives in hospitals, another has been working hard to ensure that the rest of the population is protected through vaccine rollouts.
Uni Klinik brunch director Dr Nurul Hidayah Yahaya has been at the forefront of the vaccination programme at the World Trade Centre Kuala Lumpur (WTCKL) mega vaccination centre (PPV) since May.
She said she could not be more proud of Malaysia’s success as one of the fastest countries to vaccinate its people per capita since the Operation Surge Capacity initiative kicked off in July.
“This wouldn’t have happened without the patriotism and effort of all the frontliners at the hospitals, PPVs and health clinics in the private or public sector,” she said when speaking to Malay Mail.
“All of them have a sense of nationalism and humanity, and this can help us achieve high vaccination rates.”
Dr Nurul Hidayah said she was excited to see the increase in volunteers and those on duty at PPVs.
“We have tolerance, unity and a give-and-take attitude,” she said.
“Without this, a job cannot be done well.”
Sacrificing for others
The fight against the Covid-19 war has been nothing but a massive sacrifice for frontliners.
Long and exhausting work hours aside, it takes a lot of devotion to stay fit physically and mentally for such crucial tasks.
For UMMC chief nursing officer Hasimah Zainol, it has been even more challenging as she oversees 2,390 nurses.
With 450 beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients at the infectious disease ward, Hasimah said it has been an uphill struggle to ensure patients receive the best treatment and return to their families.
“Society needs us and my nurses need me,” she said to Malay Mail recently.
“Due to the high number of cases, my nurses are now at greater risk of contracting Covid-19, which worries me.”
When asked if she has any National Day wishes, Hasimah quickly said she hopes the pandemic will end soon, allowing her staff to take a much-needed and long deserved break.
One of the nurses from the Covid-19 ward, Punitha Kuppusamy said stress and anxiety have become part of the job due to the risks, but she noted that the nurses have managed to overcome the challenges through teamwork.
“What makes us feel sad is when some patients come in late for their Covid-19 treatment, and sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we still lose them,” she said.
United we stand
The war against Covid-19, however, doesn’t end with just healthcare frontliners.
The resulting economic hardship brought about by the pandemic has destroyed the livelihood of many people across the country.
Thanks to the selflessness of kind-hearted Malaysians, several NGOs, as well as volunteers, have been consistently helping the marginalised community to get through the trying times.
Social activist Kuan Chee Heng, popularly known as Uncle Kentang, is among the numerous Good Samaritans who have never failed to come to the aid of the needy in tough times.
“Although the pandemic has cost many of our loved ones dearly, we can say that Malaysians are more united in offering assistance to the needy,” he said.
“This is the time that our country and people need us.
“The longer the pandemic is, the more people will be out of jobs and need help.”
Kuan said many Malaysians have reached out to him to lend a hand to the needy over the past year.
“This is our country. If we don’t do it, who will?” he asked.
As Malaysians celebrate the country’s 64th National Day, Kuan said he hopes that more do not allow negative elements to break up the spirit of unity.
“I always tell my children that this is the best country you have,” he said.
“Never criticise, just contribute.”
Pertubuhan Kesihatan dan Kebajikan Umum Malaysia is another NGO that has been looking after the homeless, sex workers, drug users and the urban poor of Chow Kit, whose lives have been affected due to the pandemic.
Its president Elisha Kor Krishnan said they launched a Food For All initiative last year during the first movement control order to help feed the poor.
Thanks to public donations, Elisha said the programme regularly feeds over 500 people every day.
“We serve everybody regardless of race, gender and nationality,” she said.
Elisha said it is extremely rewarding when she ensures the people she helps sleep with a full stomach every night.
“It’s hard to describe the emotions, but that’s what makes me human,” she said.
“I may not give them hope, but I can make them happy in that particular moment.”