Coronavirus: Nurse cancelled wedding amid outbreak because it was the 'responsible thing to do'

Mr Benjamin Ong, a senior staff nurse at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said that he and his fiancee will still be planning a small celebration with close members of the family. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - A nurse who cancelled his wedding reception earlier in February due to the coronavirus situation said on Friday (Feb 14) that this was the "responsible thing to do".

Mr Benjamin Ong, 29, a senior staff nurse at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), said that he and his fiancee will still be planning a small celebration with close members of the family.

"We want to avoid large crowds during this uncertain period and take additional precautionary measures," explained Mr Ong, who is ethnically Indian but was adopted by a Chinese family.

Though a difficult decision to make, the couple made the move as they did not want to risk a possible spread of the virus, which originated from China's Wuhan city and, as of Friday evening, has infected 67 in Singapore, and infected more than 63,000 and killed over 1,300 in China.

Mr Ong, a Malaysian who came to Singapore in 2012 and has been working at TTSH for around eight years, had posted on social media on Saturday about his "battle scars" as a frontline healthcare worker.

He said in his online posts that he had to cancel his wedding because of the coronavirus situation.

Speaking to journalists on Friday, Mr Ong explained that he made the posts to raise awareness about the challenges and sacrifices which healthcare workers go through.

He added that he and his fiancee are still planning to hold a proper wedding celebration after the coronavirus outbreak has passed.

His fiancee, a 29-year-old healthcare worker, as well as Mr Ong's family and parents-in-law were all supportive of the decision to cancel the February wedding reception.

Fortunately for the couple, the restaurant the reception was to be held reimbursed their deposit for the event.

Mr Ong in his Saturday online posts described his work as entering a "war zone", having to wear "every level of protection needed" so as to not pass on the virus.

Though the number of hours worked did not change, he said on Friday that the workload during his eight-hour shift was higher, and this left him, as he described in his online posts, sweaty, tired, aching in the back, sore in the calves and hurting in the ankles. Wearing personal protective equipment also made breathing more difficult and also left marks on his face after having worn them for hours.

Yet, Mr Ong said he enjoys his job because being on the frontline gives him an adrenaline rush when he can help those in need.

Mr Ong in his social media posts also touched on how healthcare workers in uniform could be discriminated by members of the public who fear they may catch germs from them.

President Halimah Yacob had urged Singaporeans in a Facebook post on Thursday to stand behind the country's healthcare workers, saying she was pained to learn how some of them had been treated. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong also said on Wednesday that showing nurses and doctors appreciation could "give them a morale boost to continue the fight".

Mr Ong clarified on Friday that he personally did not experience any discrimination, adding that support for healthcare workers has been rising recently.

"There is negativity, but lately there is much more positivity. My boss has also been very supportive of us and easy to speak to, making sure that we do not burn out during this tough period," said Mr Ong.

"As healthcare workers, I believe that we can go through this outbreak just like how we did during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) period. We need to have a positive mindset. This is not a time to put blame on anyone."

Mr Ong's mother, who lives in Malaysia, is his strongest pillar of support.

"She calls and texts me everyday, reminding me and my fiancee to wash our hands, take our vitamins, and constantly gives me updates about the coronavirus," he added.

"Quitting my job never crossed my mind as this is what I signed up for. We are fighting a war that cannot be seen by the naked eye and a simple 'thank you' means the world to us."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.