Coronavirus pandemic

Firms in Malaysia step up with offers of aid for health workers

A nurse checks the temperature of a visitor as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 3, 2020.
A nurse checks the temperature of a visitor as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Feb 3, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • Businesses in Malaysia are coming to the aid of healthcare professionals battling the coronavirus outbreak on the front line, pledging funds and raising donations for medical supplies and protective gear, and offering free beds and meals.

"I believe that corporates and individuals who have stepped up feel this same sense of helplessness in not being able to do more," said Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan, chairman of the ECM Libra Foundation.

The foundation, together with Ormond Group, is providing free accommodation to healthcare workers from KL General Hospital - one of the capital's designated public hospitals tasked with managing Covid-19 patients.

With the slump in tourism as a result of the global pandemic, Mr Kalimullah said empty beds in Tune Hotel - a five-minute drive from the hospital - would be better utilised by medical staff.

Since the initiative kicked off three days ago, a few dozen rooms have been taken up.

Photos of healthcare workers sleeping on hospital floors, stretchers and on staircases have gone viral in Malaysia as these workers have been working long hours on extended shifts as patient numbers climbed and hit more than 2,000 this week.

Photos as well as videos of nurses using everyday items such as plastic bags and cling wrap to make DIY protective gear have gone viral too. The social-media postings have highlighted the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the risks the healthcare workers are exposed to while on duty.

PPE includes protective clothing, helmets and goggles meant to protect one from infection.

Reports that hospitals outside the Klang Valley face equipment shortages and that the country had insufficient ventilators to cope with any spike in intensive-care cases have spurred private initiatives by businesses.

 
 

Malaysia has 926 ventilators in intensive care units, with 152 non-invasive ventilators and 142 transport ventilators. The Health Ministry has announced that it is ordering 800 ventilators, while private hospitals have offered 51 ventilators to the ministry for use during the pandemic.

The Edge business daily came up with The Edge Covid-19 Fund earlier this week and it has already amassed RM19.2 million (S$6.3 million) in contributions from tycoons and companies, far surpassing the government-initiated fund that was launched by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on March 11. The government's fund has collected RM8.5 million as of Wednesday .

On Thursday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin announced that all ministers and deputy ministers in his new Cabinet would take a two-month pay cut and the money would be channelled to the government fund.

  • $6.3m 

    How much The Edge business daily has collected in contributions from tycoons and companies.

The Edge's chief executive Ho Kay Tat has said that with everyone "in the same boat", corporate Malaysia "cannot just be watching from the sidelines".

He said The Edge Covid-19 Fund would be used to procure medical equipment and to aid front-line healthcare workers who fall sick in the line of duty.

Some companies have also contributed medical supplies to the Health Ministry or the National Disaster Management Agency of Malaysia. Glovemakers Supermax and Top Glove have committed to making available 3.5 million pieces of gloves to first responders.

The Covid-19 outbreak is expected to worsen in Malaysia, with experts predicting that infections have not hit the peak yet. JP Morgan, in a report, has estimated that Malaysia would see some 6,300 cases by mid-April.

Trinna Leong

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2020, with the headline 'Firms in Malaysia step up with offers of aid for health workers'. Subscribe