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As Covid-19 cases surge, Sabah struggles to cope


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Many heaved a sigh of relief when the PM’s request for draconian emergency powers was rebuffed. But in Sabah, the Covid-19 surge is stretching healthcare facilities to bursting point, Jem writes.

The prime minister and his team rushed to see the King, all the way in Kuantan, hoping to get ‘emergency powers’ purportedly to curb the uptick in Covid-19 cases in the country. 

But most people instinctively knew Covid-19 was only a pretext to help the PM and his merry men remain in power indefinitely. 

The King and the rulers met, and the wise decision is that there is no need for such drastic measures. 

Such measures would have created a dictatorship, which would have destroyed our democracy, undermined constitutional civil liberties and angered the people. It would have granted unchecked powers to a small group, leaving the people with no say. A scary thought! 

Many feltcertain leaders were using the pandemic to further their own ends. Not one of them has shown any remorse or sense of shame for their latest cynical move.

All this is taxing for the people, who have to put up with an incompetent government – one not of our own choosing. A truce has been called, a calamity overturned. Now we shall have to wait and see how long it will be before the bickering resumes.

Many can see the rampant greed and blatant corruption. Few are surprised by what the current ruling politicians say or do – although truth be told, the move to seek emergency powers topped it all. The real face of “abah” has been unmasked!  

That the country is so bereft of honest and caring politicians is heart-breaking. Non-Malay politicians are depicted as bogeymen who would deprive the Malay community of their rights. 

So who will the people vote for in the next election? There seems to be nobody – as most of them appear tarred with the same brush. All this jostling for power and position is taking place at the expense of the people and against a backdrop of a spike in Covid-19 cases. People are losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet, but the politicians are only thinking of themselves.

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The primary focus now is the pandemic. The rise in Covid-19 cases in the peninsula is manageable. As for Sabah, the number of new cases fell to 410 yesterday from 927 the previous day. This is welcome news for the people of Sabah.

But the fight is still not over. There are still about 8,000 active cases in Sabah, and this is taking a huge toll on frontline workers in the state. Many clusters of the virus have popped up in Sandakan, Kota Kinabalu and Semporna. 

Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said recently that medical frontline personnel are “prepared to throw in the towel”. And who can blame them when they have been in the thick of things for months now.  

The virus was already in Sabah in the early months of 2020 although in much smaller numbers then. 

The Sabah state election would not have happened had it not been for certain politicians in Kuala Lumpur prodding certain people in Sabah to make their case to become state chief minister. The then-Chief Minister, Shafie Apdal, had no choice but to seek a dissolution of the state assembly and call for snap elections. 

Those who actually triggered this election have denied they were responsible for what has happened – but that is nothing new.  

So what is the newly elected Gabungan Rakyat Sabah-Perikatan Nasional government doing now to ease the suffering of the people of Sabah? According to Masidi Manjun, the state minister for Covid-19 affairs, 87,299 food baskets have been distributed to target groups. Only this? What else is being done by the Sabah government? 

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The federal Ministry of Health is converting hospitals to admit only Covid-19 patients, and mobilising healthcare personnel including those from other states. More laboratories are being set up, and several laboratories in the peninsula will help in carrying out tests. According to the health minister, additional allocations have been made to the Sabah Health Department for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment, including ventilators. 

According to a health portal, Code Blue, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu has now increased its number of Covid-19 wards from three to 15. But there is still a great shortage of personnel despite the federal Ministry of Health mobilising 800 medical and public officers and NGOs sending help to the state. 

Transporting patients, especially from rural areas, to hospitals is difficult as some patients’ homes are in areas inaccessible by road. 

So the crisis has become worse: hospitals are running out of beds, critical patients have to wait days to get into intensive care, and doctors are running themselves ragged. The cases are not confined to one specific place or group; they are now everywhere!

In Tawau, the Malaysian Armed Forces’ field hospital is equipped with 100 beds, with an intensive care unit and operating theatres to treat non-Covid-19  patients who are in stable condition. But more medical officers are needed.

In Semporna, the hospital desperately needs more personnel. Staff there work from 8am to 5pm, but nearly always, nobody goes back home until late in the night, six days a week. The hospital now has a Covid-19 ward, and the critically ill are transferred to Tawau.

A volunteer in Beluran hospital said that a tent has been put up at a parking lot that has a roof. Here, frontline personnel carry out swab tests. The tent is always falling apart and has to be fixed by the hospital staff themselves. Can you just imagine doing all that work in the sweltering heat while wearing PPE suits? According to the volunteer, a wall will be built with proper ventilation and fans to make it easier for them to swab people more comfortably.

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What is the Sabah government doing about this? What is the local MP doing to help these hospital staff? Who is going to provide essential supplies to this hospital?

The rise in cases throughout the peninsula and the East Malaysian states – the third wave – leaves many of us in despair. According to Defence Minister Ismail Sabri, Malaysians are being caught every day for flouting various standard operating procedures.

But a minister who returned from Turkey did not follow these procedures, and he got away with it. Why? These procedures are there for a reason, and if Malaysians take heed of them, the number of new cases will probably decline. 

We all have to play our part. Even the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put Malaysia on its Level 3 alert list and advises against non-essential international travel to Malaysia, as visitors are at high risk of severe illness. 

Will there be new lockdowns if cases rise further? Hopefully, common sense will prevail and all Malaysians will abide by the standard operating procedures, as that is only way to stop the spread and avoid lockdowns. 

We may never go back to the way we were, in the near future. Masks and social distancing will be part of our lives for the next year or so. But we can stop people from getting sick and dying. Surely that would be a good thing. 

Jem, an Aliran reader, still cares deeply about Sabah, despite having lived in the peninsula for some time

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
29 Oct 2020 7.26am


I am not a Tzu Chi member but I am aware of the work it does in response to emergencies.
I share the above to show that the response from the federal and state govt is still lacking.
Muhyiddin and his bloated cabinet should take a pay cut and channel the money to help fight covid 19 in Sabah,

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