KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia reported 11,079 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday (July 13), the first time daily infections have hit five figures, amid a health crisis that has seen hospitals and Covid-19 assessment centres flooded with patients.
The previous daily record was logged just three days ago on Saturday, with 9,353 cases. Tuesday also saw 125 deaths and a record 972 patients in intensive care.
Selangor, the country’s most populous state, reported the bulk of the new infections with 5,263 cases, or 47.5 per cent of the total.
The federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, which is surrounded by the state of Selangor, logged 1,521 infections, the second highest in the country.
At 855,949 cases overall, Malaysia has one of South-east Asia’s highest per-capita infection rates.
One of the reasons for the rise is the emergence of the Delta variant which can spread via airborne transmission, said Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah.
“We were informed that the Delta variant is now the dominant variant,” he told a news conference.
The number of infections is projected to further increase in the next two weeks before stabilising, he added.
There are concerns about the rising number of cases, deaths and patients in hospitals, even as large chunks of Malaysia including Selangor and KL are into its seventh week of total lockdown, and with the government boasting that a high number of people have been inoculated.
Nearly 11.8 million Malaysians have received at least one dose of the vaccine by Monday, or about 24.8 per cent of the population, said Health Minister Adham Baba. They included 11.3 per cent (3.68 million) who have received the full dosage.
Social media has been awash with video clips and pictures of bodies piling up in hospitals.
A viral 15-minute video uploaded on YouTube on Monday purportedly had distressed frontliners comparing the healthcare system in the Klang Valley - Malaysia’s most populated districts comprising KL, Putrajaya and most of Selangor - to a sunken ship.
“We are replacing oxygen canisters by the hour. Some patients might be required to share oxygen with five other patients,” said an unnamed frontliner.
There is also a shortage in medications used for the past few weeks, said another frontliner. “We are not receiving help from the headquarters and we are dying in this battle,” she said.
No images of the frontliners were shown and their voices appeared to have been altered to protect their identities, as there is a gag order against health workers making unauthorised comments.
Meanwhile, a vaccination centre in the Selangor capital of Shah Alam was shut down for a day on Tuesday after 204 workers tested positive for Covid-19, following a mass screening exercise on all 453 workers and volunteers.
Those who tested positive have been isolated and a new team of workers will man the Ideal Convention Centre on Wednesday after the centre is sanitised, officials said.
The government has been on the defensive as the caseloads have continued to climb six months into a state of emergency that was imposed in mid-January with the stated aim of taming the disease.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Tuesday visited a key Selangor hospital which is struggling with the influx of patients, and said help is on the way for the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang town.
He said an additional RM100 million (S$32 million) would be spent on outsourcing healthcare in the Klang Valley, while an additional 151 beds would be added to the hospital along with another 15 ventilators.
“I have ordered (the authorities) to look into the mental health of (frontliners) and the people and ensure that the welfare and morale of health workers are taken care of,” he said, as quoted as saying by Astro Awani news channel.
For patients who have tested positive, their nightmare does not end there.
They have to queue up at Covid-19 assessment centres, or CACs, for authorities to determine whether they will be sent to hospitals, quarantine and treatment centres, or undergo quarantine at home.
On Monday, more than 4,000 Covid-19 patients flocked to the Malawati Stadium, one of Selangor’s biggest CACs.
Photos and video clips of people of all ages, including infants in strollers, queuing on public roads while waiting for their turn to be assessed by medical personnel raised both alarm and anger.
A Covid-19 patient who underwent an assessment at Malawati Stadium last week (July 6) told The Straits Times that it took six hours to complete the process.
“They told me there were 2,000 people there that day. I arrived at 10.30am, and finished at 4.30pm. It was not as crazy as it is now,” said the patient, who declined to be named.
Meanwhile, residents in Klang town have protested against the location of a CAC in the housing estate of Taman Sri Andalas, which they say is too close to their landed homes.
In the YouTube video, a frontliner compared Malaysia’s health crisis to the outbreak in Italy last year and India this year. “We are already in Italy 2020. We are already in India 2021,” she said.
“If you think the ship is still sailing, I think it has sunk,” said another frontliner.