Coronavirus Asia

Hospitals in Malaysia overwhelmed as cases spike

Crisis prompts health experts to urge tighter enforcement of nationwide lockdown

A photo posted on social media by Klang MP Charles Santiago on Wednesday showing patients outside the emergency department of Klang's Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital, owing to a lack of space and beds.
A photo posted on social media by Klang MP Charles Santiago on Wednesday showing patients outside the emergency department of Klang's Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital, owing to a lack of space and beds.PHOTO: MPKLANG/TWITTER

Malaysia's hospitals are overwhelmed, with photos and videos of patients lying on hospital floors making the rounds as the country hit a record high of 9,180 Covid-19 cases yesterday.

The crisis has led to calls for tighter enforcement of the nationwide lockdown, described by some medical experts as "half-baked".

Netizens were baffled after department stores in the capital and Johor announced their reopening yesterday on social media, even though only essential services are meant to open.

Isetan announced on Facebook the reopening of its outlets in Suria KLCC mall and The Gardens Mall, while Sogo's department stores in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru also resumed business.

This was despite warnings about soaring infection figures and hospitals being at breaking point.

The Covid-19 Epidemiological Analysis and Strategies Task Force chairman, Professor Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, told The Straits Times: "We are reaching the critical point now."

ST understands that some hospitals are facing a supply crunch and some patients in the Klang Valley have to share oxygen tanks.

Nephrologist Rafidah Abdullah tweeted on Thursday: "There is nothing wrong in confirming that many government hospitals and health facilities in the Klang Valley are already crippled. We don't have enough resources. That is a fact and the reality."

Covid-19 cases have spiked in recent days despite the lockdown, which critics say allows too many exemptions. Manufacturing-sector businesses have approval to operate even in areas under the tightest enhanced movement control order (EMCO).

Economic powerhouse Selangor, much of which is under the EMCO, topped the list of daily cases yesterday, with 4,400 infections. Kuala Lumpur recorded 1,271 cases, and Negeri Sembilan had 899.

The infection rate has soared to 1.09, meaning that a patient will infect at least one other person.

"The lockdown needs to be strict enough and long enough. It is not strict enough. It is a half-baked lockdown, so there is not much impact," said Datuk Awang Bulgiba. "Putting in more beds, oxygen tanks, hospitals, does not solve the root problem."

Selangor Health Department director Sha'ari Ngadiman said on Thursday that all hospitals in the state have seen a spike in Covid-19 cases since the end of last month, especially of seriously ill patients.

Two public hospitals there are struggling to cope with the surge - more beds and medical workers have been mobilised to Shah Alam Hospital and Klang's Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital, he said.

Videos showing patients, believed to be at these two hospitals, lying on the floor and shrouded bodies lying in rooms have been widely shared online, sparking alarm.

Dr Sha'ari said Shah Alam Hospital was dealing with an increase in non-Covid-19 cases, leading to the scenes of overcrowding.

Klang MP Charles Santiago said yesterday that the Klang hospital needed RM20 million (S$6.5 million) immediately for intensive care unit facilities, oxygen tanks and beds, adding that some patients had been waiting for beds for days.

"My friend's mother-in-law has been sitting on the same chair for two days now," he said.

Epidemiologist and biostatistician Kamarul Imran Musa, who is an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, told ST: "Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Negeri Sembilan definitely need help and extra resources... within the next week or two.

"The government must seriously relook the enforcement for the MCO in these three areas. The consistently high number of new cases there indicates there are weaknesses in Covid-19 control and prevention activities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2021, with the headline 'Hospitals in Malaysia overwhelmed as cases spike'. Subscribe