I am proud to say, that looking at our Covid-19 numbers, yes — despite some irregularities and queries — Malaysia has done very well to control this notorious pandemic (note that I said “control”, not “curbed/ cured/ free of”).
Despite my ranting on social media that many are not following SOPs, and I have received much backlash openly and privately, I wish to share some stories or ‘case reports’ with all of you on how we are still a ticking-timebomb. Now, before I start, I reckon that some of you might say after completing this article — “Aiyah, one instance only. What can possibly go wrong?”.
Please kindly remember that Covid-19 is a notorious virus. It doesn’t recognise/ rest on any bank holiday, it isn’t forgiving to allow one another chance. Its mission — strictly strike at any opportunity, shoot to infect.
Case report 1 : Kindergartens
We parents lately were told that our children can go back to kindergartens. Initially, we were asked to consider to continue online classes (as they did during the MCO) or consider the regular physical classes. Some of us (me included) were skeptical about the initiation of physical classes.
Nevertheless, the school decided to have an online meet to show about their methods and steps they have taken to ensure that children are safe at school as far as Covid-19 was concerned. I decided to keep an open mind and hear what the teachers/school had to say — after all I should give them a chance to show what they have done and their protocols adherence etc.
I must say, after the online session, I was left impressed and close to sending my child to school again, but something told me” Give it another month” and I opted for the online classes. Two weeks into the re-opening, I was informed that my child will not be given the option of online classes anymore. After arguing why this was the case, the school said they had lack of staff and sent me photos of how the children were ‘safe at school’.
The pictures they sent me were shocking. Sorry, let me rephrase that, IT WAS APPALLING. Children were not adherent to their boxed spaces (I mean I understand this — you can’t make an active child sit in one place for long hours), but many kids were in such close proximity with the teachers standing there doing nothing. But what was scary was, the school thought that it was okay.
After arguing that they were not doing enough to adhere to SOPs and that we demanded online classes — they turned us away — and I am pretty sure that many parents were told them same. So, basically, our children will be denied pre-education because we are concerned for their safety and rightly so after seeing the pictures.
Please do remember, that these kids spend half a day at school and then return home and are exposed to their parents and grandparents, some of whom are at risk of Covid-19. I understand that the kindergarten services are needed as some parents have to rely on them for child care whilst they are at work, but their adherence to SOPs will definitely make many re-consider.
Case report 2: Public transport (interstate)
I had a relative who decided to travel from Johor Bahru to Perak to visit a family member. The bus boarded was the midnight bus that travelled from Johor to Penang making stops in a few states on the way including Perak. My relative was impressed with how the bus company adhered to SOPs — took temperatures, ensured social distancing, QR code scanned everyone and ensured their details were correct before the start of the journey. But that was short-lived.
Midway through the journey, the bus stopped at a rest station and a short survey was done to amongst passengers to ask who were alighting at Perak. My relative happened to be the only one on board who was stopping at Perak. He was asked by the bus driver get down from the bus and change to another bus (different company) so that he could save time. According to the driver, it was not time savvy to stop in Perak just for one passenger.
My relative was annoyed and said that it was a breach of SOP — after undergoing all the check and protocols etc, what if there was a Covid-19 patient on board — it will make contact tracing impossible. The bus driver argued and said that my relative had to change busses. After threatening to report this to the authorities, the driver reluctantly decided to carry on with the proposed journey — to stop in Perak and then head to Penang.
This was followed with much insults and harassment from the driver through-out the journey. Had my relative not fought back, he would have been on another bus to Perak without any registration/ documentation for contact tracing purposes.
As a frequent bus traveller, I know how many times this has happened in the past — passengers asked to alight the bus and board a different bus for ‘convenience’. Can you imagine with this incident, how many others might have been occurring? God forbid, what if contact tracing is needed? Who will be responsible? Think about it.
Case report 3: The public’s approach to SOPs — masking, writing down name/contact number/scanning QR codes etc.
Seeing patients come into clinics/ hospitals these days is a scary chore. I see many patients coming in refusing to scan the MySejahtera app and refusing to put their details etc. Some that do put false names and cartoon characters with fake phone numbers. Unfortunately, our rakyat seem to see the funny side of this more than the seriousness of it.
Many argue back when asked to abide by the SOPs. Some even refuse to put on a face mask saying “Itu covid sudah tarak- you beria apasal?”. When explaining to them that the pandemic is far from over, this is the common response — “aiya, you orang buat semua orang susah sahaja” OR “Mereka sudah cakap tak payah mask dulu pun kenapa sekarang mau mask”.
KKM has done a fantastic job in controlling the Covid-19, but I think we can do much better in not only educating/re-educating but also communicating the message well with our rakyat. One statement in the past of mask wearing only during symptoms has seemed to be imprinted in the minds of Malaysians.
It would be helpful if it can be made compulsory to wear masks in public. After all, we do not want a repeat of the MCO again — our graphs matched South Korea very closely in the past and they are currently suffering from the second wave. Malaysia needs to learn from past mistakes and mistakes of others so that we do not see another rise in Covid-19 cases.
I urge the relevant authorities to look into the case studies given and do spot-checks on this. It is best that the authorities create a complaint channel so that the public can immediately lodge a report in the event of a breach SOP (like the SPAD line).
Dr Arvinder-Singh HS is a Medical Officer with a Certificate in Occupational Health, Masters in Health Research, Diploma in Football Medicine and is currently pursuing a PhD in Community Health focusing on adolescent athletes’ health.
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