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Covid-19: Frontliners look for volunteers as burnout nears

Zaidi Azmi
Written by Zaidi Azmi

KUALA LUMPUR — March 25, 2020: An aggressive recruitment drive has kick-started in a Telegram chatroom of a Covid-19 volunteers group, pleading those with medical backgrounds to assist frontliners in battling the outbreak.

“We are in dire and critical need for those with enough medical knowledge to do screening, triaging and contact tracing,” pleads a medical officer stationed at one of the Covid-19 designated hospitals.

The text was followed by a link of an online volunteer’s registration form prepared by the Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness Response Centre.

Malaysia is currently battling the second wave of the outbreak after recording its first three cases on January 24 which has, as of yesterday, surged to 1,624.

A nation-wide 14-day movement control order (MCO) has been enforced since Wednesday last week. The original two-week order has now been extended to April 14.

While there have yet to be any official announcement concerning frontliners’ burnout, the talk among those in the know indicated that the exhaustion is there.

“My friends have been working non-stop ever since the MCO began. They are very tired, and it gets worse as they do not have enough equipment,” said a private hospital nurse in the Klang Valley who only wanted to be known as Hanis.

According to Hanis, the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) suits were particularly jarring and a video showing medical staff fashioning makeshift suits from garbage bags that had gone viral during the weekend lent credence to her claim.

Another telling sign of frontliners’ burnout was further hinted today by Health director-general Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah in his pep-talk post on Facebook.

“To all the frontline healthcare workers, please stay strong and stay safe, we have to shoulder the responsibility to fight the invisible Covid-19. We are the last frontier of defence and our country depends on us,” he wrote.

Even before the outbreak, Malaysian hospitals were already understaffed, underfunded and overcrowded which – as reported by the National Audit Department last year – led to its inability to properly replace and procure new equipment.

“PPEs are of one-time use and we’re running short on it because infections are increasing. Sure, the government has managed to secure 33 million units of it [on Monday] but who knows how long those will last if people continue to make light of the MCO,” lamented a government doctor in Kedah.

Frontliners have, since day one of the MCO, been urging Malaysians to stay indoors, flooding social media with pictures of them clad in PPEs holding placards that read: “I stay at work for you. You stay at home for us.”

Two days ago, Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Idris uploaded at Facebook,a poignant four-minute video of an anonymous doctor pleading Malaysians to abide by the MCO.

“What we should fear the most right now is the burnout of frontliners. They are extremely tired, some have been working 18 hours a day. Sadly, some members of the public do not seem to appreciate their efforts. They still flock supermarkets, they go out on picnics.

“Please people, open your eyes. Disobeying the MCO is a mockery to the work and sacrifices of our frontliners. Stay at home. Please,” implored the doctor.

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About the author

Zaidi Azmi

Zaidi Azmi

If Zaidi Azmi isn’t busy finding his way in the city, this 26-year-old northern kampung boy can be found struggling to make sense of the Malaysian political scene. Zaidi can be reached at zaidiazmi91@gmail.com.