COVID-19 Op-ed

Saviour or Stigmatized? A Malaysia Perspective on COVID-19 Frontliners

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Rashid AtingResearcher at
Social Wellbeing Research CentreFaculty of Economics and
AdministrationUniversity of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.This piece of work strictly
represents the author’s personal view,not on behalf institution or any
organization.The author can be reached through his
e-mail:rashid_ating@um.edu.my

It has been ten months since the COVID-19 hit the world since
the first case reported at Wuhan, China in early January this year. The
pandemic is not even close to an end. With a second wave in some countries
despite restrictions imposed, which further exposed them as either they are
prepared or getting caught in other matters aside from containing the
pandemic. It was evident from the protest in Indonesia regarding the new
labour law (New York Times, 2020), while the neighbouring country, Malaysia,
the political upheaval among politician continues even at this critical time.
(TODAYonline, 2020). Regardless of status, the virus does not discriminate in
infecting people, from top world leader to unemployed citizen that lives in
the congested slums at the outskirts of the capital.While some countries
already passed the first wave of the pandemic, second wave was tougher than
expected. Malaysia experience this when the confirmed cases suddenly
astronomically spike into three-digit numbers in the last few weeks. The
integral part in dealing with either the first or the second wave are the
front-liners. They are the core-elements in eradicating, treating and as a
first line of defence against unseen enemy in this invisible war. The
front-liners or health care workers (HCW) comprises of medical staff i.e:
doctors, nurses and their assistants, paramedics, ambulance staff, hospitals
porters, physicians, medical officers, graduated medical officers, medical
experts, pathologists, police and others (Tan Poh Tin, 2020). They are humans
with spouses, families, and children waiting for them at home.  The
Malaysia government owes much from this group of people. They are putting
their lives at risk every day by treating patients with COVID-19. They have
been praised for their efforts, given some allowances by the government apart
from their monthly salary as a reward, and treated with respect.  There
was also an especial counter payment at the supermarket for the front-liners
wearing their uniforms (Tesco Malaysia, 2002). They were even considered as
national heroes after successfully curbing the first wave of this
outbreak.The front-liners in Malaysia do not face serious physical violence
like their counterparts in other Southeast Asian countries. In the
Philippines, an attacker poured bleach to hospital utility workers (Tan Poh
Tin, 2020). In Indonesia, citizens ignored health care workers that walked at
the main street, giving the warning to stay at home during the first wave of
the outbreak. Some Indonesians also refuse to follow instructions from the
government related to Friday prayer despite earlier warning to suspend any
religious activities (CNA, 2020).Despite that, Malaysian front-liners also
face psychological violence and stigma discriminating their children due to
their professions. People think that other children might be exposed since
they share the same childcare centres as the children of the front-liners.
However, they do not have any options apart from sending their children to
childcare centres because of their long hours of work. Their duty required
them to be in full gear suit protection (PPE) that does not allow them to
eat, drink and go to the toilet for long periods. After some retaliation from
local paediatricians and medical professional associations, this stigma
slightly reduced after the statement released by Women, Family and Community
Development Ministry stated in Appendix 12, Section 2.1.2 “that front-liners
children in a higher risk of getting COVID-19 infection from their parents.
The best place for them is at home, and if they intend to send their children
in childcare centres, they must be isolated from other children”. (CodeBlue,
2020). This statement enraged the frontlines because they feel that it is a
violation of their human rights.The battle is still far from over. The
front-liners are exhausted, and their mental conditions are already
deteriorating after long hours of work which was different compared to their
normal work hours before the pandemic. In some situation before the first
wave end, some hospitals in Malaysia quarantined their staff for a few days,
to prevent the spread of the virus in their communities. Such measure
discouraged the front-liners, as they are not able to see their loves one for
some time. The responsibility to ensure the well-being of this group should
not only lie on the shoulder of government only but to society. Corporate
organizations need to step in and take actions.  For example, by
providing additional benefits or compensation for the front-liners and their
heirs if they get infected or in the worst-case scenario, died because of
this pandemic. For the long-term program, it is suggested that the government
should provide a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to the front-liners,
similar to any veterans of a conventional war (Tan Poh Tin, 2020).References:
CodeBlue. (2020), “Are Frontliners Being Treated
Unfairly? – 250 Paediatricians & Malaysian Paediatric Association”,
retrieved from, https://codeblue.galencentre.org/2020/05/23/are-frontliners-being-treated-unfairly-250-paediatricians-malaysian-paediatric-association/,
on October 14, 2020.CNA. (2020), “Ignoring government appeals, some Jakarta
mosques hold Friday prayers”, retrieved from,
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/indonesia-jakarta-friday-prayer-mosque-muslim-despite
suspension12560676?cid=h3_referral_inarticlelinks_24082018_cna, on Nov
4th, 2020.New York Times. (2020), “Protests Spread
Across Indonesia Over Jobs Law”, retrieved from, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/world/asia/indonesia-protests-jobs.html,
on October 14, 2020.Tan Poh Tin. (2020), “Saluting Our Covid-19 Frontliners”,
retrieved from, https://codeblue.galencentre.org/2020/07/21/saluting-our-covid-19-frontliners/,
on October 14, 2020.Tesco Malaysia. (2020). https://www.facebook.com/TescoMY/posts/dedicated-queue-lane-payment-counter-for-frontliners-and-the-elderly-for-frontli/3068628906508329/,
on October 14, 2020.TODAYonline. (2020), “Malaysian police to quiz Anwar on
list of MP backers”, retrieved from, https://www.todayonline.com/world/malaysian-police-quiz-anwar-list-mp-backers,
on October 14, 2020.

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