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Pandemic shows why Sabah’s healthcare capacity must be expanded

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By now, the state government will have seen how essential it is to have enough proper hospitals and healthcare resources at all times, Jem writes. 

It was heart-breaking to read an Aljazeera report that described Sabah as “Malaysia’s poorest state” in the pandemic’s context and how it has been struggling with healthcare resources. 

The writer of that report was not wrong – even though Sabah is rich in resources – and we have to face this fact. There was a time when Sabah could stand tall among the other states. So what has happened and who is responsible? These are questions for another time. 

For now, we must focus on the state, hard hit in its battle with the coronavirus. We know the Ministry of Health has deployed medical teams, including army medics to support the state’s battle against the pandemic.

Why relax restrictions now?

As of 13 November 2020, Sabah had 22,323 infections, with 7,712 active cases and 168 deaths. Despite such horrific numbers, the state government announced on 10 November a relaxation of restrictions, even though its conditional movement control order, due to expire on 9 November, was extended to 6 December.

So from midnight of 11 November 2020, there would be longer business hours, limited religious activities and marriage ceremonies. Public eateries, restaurants and public transport could operate at 50% capacity as long as they comply with standard operating procedures.

But also on 11 November, three new clusters were located in Sabah, which recorded its highest number of fresh cases at 397 or 45.7% of the national total. Is this the time to relax the restrictions? Words fail me! 

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Whatever the reason for the easing of restrictions, it is time for all of us to get our act together.  Looking at media reports and listening to coronavirus experts, we just have to assume that the virus is in many of our areas or neighbourhoods. 

Studies have shown that asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals can transmit the coronavirus. We have to assume that the people we meet could be infected.

Thus physical distancing, hand hygiene and the proper use of face masks (ie not under the nose) are of paramount importance. You wear a mask not just for the people around you but also for yourself. 

The whole idea is to flatten the curve. Don’t go out, stay at home, and avoid crowds and confined spaces. We hear these warnings constantly on the radio and TV, but people are still going out to do their own thing. Yes, we are all experiencing pandemic fatigue, but the coronavirus is not!  Rather, it appears to be thriving all over the world.

Batu Sapi by-election?

Against this backdrop of more people getting infected and more people dying, there is the parliamentary by-election in Batu Sapi in Sabah in December. 

It is so disheartening to hear that Bersatu and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah are still mulling over whether to contest the by-election. It makes one wonder what the priorities of the state government really are. Not very people-friendly. 

Does the prime minister and his party, especially the (Perikatan Nasional/GRS) coalition in Sabah, need this seat so badly to stay in power? Would the by-election be worth it if more people in Sabah get infected by Covid-19 and perhaps succumb to it?

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Boost healthcare resources

Knowing that Sabah’s healthcare resources across the state are stretched at this time, we must focus on saving lives. 

Yes, the state is poor. Hopefully, the Sabah government and its elected representatives will see, with eyes wide open now, how essential it is for the nation to have enough proper hospitals with enough equipment and medical personnel so that the people will have confidence and prompt care when they fall ill. 

Some patients reportedly had to wait hours before a doctor could see them. This is not something that is only happening during the pandemic; it is a common occurrence!  

Put greed aside and put people first. The government should not wait for another disaster to strike before taking action.

The PN government and the Ministry of Health have now seen for themselves how hard it is for the state to cope because of a lack of personnel and adequate modern medical facilities. 

The ministry, especially, should work with the Sabah government and the state’s health services to come up with more workable plans and long-term solutions to ensure that what happened during the pandemic will not recur. 

The Sabah health services must hold a post-mortem to examine how they handled the pandemic. They must review all aspects of what they did – or did not do enough – for the people.  

Becoming a doctor or a nurse used to be a noble vocation. Hopefully, the government and survivors of this pandemic will realise how important doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are. 

More attractive salaries and incentives should be given to medical personnel, especially those in government hospitals and clinics, so that these much-needed personnel don’t move into the private sector, which can offer them better salaries and other perks.  

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The public sector medical staff who have struggled during this pandemic throughout Sabah deserve better. They have been in the thick of this pandemic, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. What will the Sabah government do for them in return?

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

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