KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — Sarikei MP Wong Ling Biu, who fell into a 42-day coma due to Covid-19, highlighted the difficulties he and his family faced to get tested in the early months of Malaysia’s coronavirus epidemic.
When the DAP lawmaker first started experiencing fever, he sought medical treatment from a doctor in Sarikei. During that time, the doctor told him that he was just having normal fever.
A week later, he felt suspicious with his health condition and decided to seek consultation from a specialist at a private hospital in Sibu.
“Unfortunately, the doctor said I am just having regular fever,” Wong said while debating the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) 2021 budget at the committee stage in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
“I still did not believe it and went to the Sarikei General Hospital to request for a Covid-19 screening. Unfortunately, I was told that at that time, the hospital did not have the facility for Covid-19 screening.”
Despite that, the Sarawakian MP was still firm and insisted on getting tested for Covid-19, as he felt that he was experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.
“After that, the next day, I went to Sibu Hospital but they refused to carry out the test because I had no close contact with a Covid-19 patient,” the DAP lawmaker said.
When he was finally admitted to Sibu Hospital, he was already in a coma. Wong was admitted to Sibu Hospital on March 7 and spent 79 days in the public hospital, including 42 days in a coma.
“Imagine if I hadn’t insisted on getting tested for Covid-19, maybe I would have passed away in my own house because the doctors were confirming that I was just having a regular fever.”
After that incident, his children and wife immediately went to Sarikei Hospital to get their samples taken. Then, their samples were sent to Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching for Covid-19 testing and confirmation.
“However, Kuching Hospital refused to test my wife, with the reason being my wife did not have Covid-19 symptoms,” Wong said.
“Hence, my wife had to go to a private hospital in Sibu to get tested and my wife was tested positive! Imagine at that time, the situation of our whole family, it was all over the place and confusing.”
His son Jackie, a national athlete who also got tested for Covid-19, initially tested positive, but after that, he was then confirmed negative.
“His quarantine period was supposed to end earlier but he was kept under quarantine for a long time, which was 73 days before being allowed home.
“I feel that my family and I have become research subjects while we were tested positive with Covid-19,” Wong said.
Malaysia has retained its targeted testing strategy throughout the Covid-19 epidemic, focusing only on close contacts of confirmed cases and high-risk groups. The Ministry of Health (MOH), however, now also tests people without symptoms if they are close contacts.
Wong asked the Health Ministry if Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, which has been procured by the government, has been tested in tropical climate countries like Malaysia, as the vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 70 degrees’ Celsius.
He also questioned if the government has the facility to store the vaccine with an ultra-low storage temperature and if Malaysia has the speciality and knowledge in handling side-effects from the vaccine.
“For example, there could be issues while delivering and storing the vaccine either in hospitals or clinics in Sarikei, which we all know is a small town and rural area.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that has been purchased by Malaysia to vaccinate 20 per cent of its population has a shelf life of six months when stored at sub-zero temperatures, but can only be stored for up to five days at normal fridge temperature of two to eight degrees.
Science, Technology, and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a statement yesterday that Malaysia has minus 80 degrees’ Celsius freezers nationwide, and that public universities and public research institutions have more than 125 ultra-cold freezers.
“If these freezers cannot be redeployed, we will make arrangements for the procurement of additional ultra-cold freezers,” he said, adding that Malaysia’s Covid-19 vaccine deal with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer covers delivery to multiple points of vaccination.