Weekly Highlights

Penang’s aggressive response to Covid-19 is commendable

In the past week, Penang embarked on an aggressive campaign to increase the capacity of our healthcare system by creating more ICUs and Covid-19 hospital beds, more frontline staff and more facilities to help Covid-19 patients.

Through the kind sponsorship of Yayasan Lee Chong Wei, we also managed to expand Bukit Mertajam Hospital to create space for another 32 beds. An additional 100 Covid-19 beds were also added to Kompleks Masyarakat Penyayang and Penang GH outpatient department.

An extra 40 repurposed ICU beds will be created this week, with the aim of creating a total of 70 additional ICU beds in the next two weeks. Once again, the goal here is to ensure patients have access to medical treatment in order to save lives.

Shift of thinking in quarantine strategy

At the beginning of September, the bed occupancy rate (BOR) for the Pusat Kuarantin dan Rawatan Covid-19 (PKRC) in Jawi was as low as 41.3%. The number increased to and hovered around 47% when Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin visited Penang.

In view of the housing context in Penang, I requested Jabatan Kesihatan Negeri to change their approach on quarantine strategy. Covid-19 patients who stay in smaller housing units such as low-medium cost housing, kampung houses, those with big households or staying with elderly at home, should be admitted to PKRC or encouraged to check-into isolation hotels. This is to prevent further spread of the disease due to lack of quarantine space in their own homes.

From this shift of thinking, we see a marked increase in PKRC BOR to almost 60% by the end of last week.

On 21 September, another PKRC in Balik Pulau will be opened to cater for more patients.

Official Site Royale Chulan Penang
From 2nd of September onwards, Royal Chulan in Penang will operate as a low risk Covid-19 treatment center

There are also currently two isolation hotels in Penang, namely Vouk Hotel and Royale Chulan while a third one, MEI Hotel will start operating on 1 October.

For those undergoing home quarantine, Penang Care, a coalition of NGOs chaired by Phee Boon Poh, Penang state EXCO for Welfare, Caring Society and Environment, is providing telemedicine service on-demand to ensure home quarantine patients receive the necessary medical attention.

More hands on deck

Pandemic management requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. We need more hands, or rather all hands, on the deck.

For this, state assemblymen from both the government and opposition blocks were invited to take part in the Covid-19 management committees in their respective districts.

I have invited the State Opposition Leader to nominate an opposition ADUN to join our secretariat as well. We have also engaged with many representatives from the manufacturing industry to discuss how to collectively reduce infections within their sectors. Although cluster infections are only less than 30% of the total infections in Penang, the rest being sporadic infections, the industry players recognised the importance of their role to help the government to fight this pandemic.

Finally, over the past one week, the federal health ministry had redeployed 223 healthcare personnel to Penang to fill in various roles in the state. This will definitely strengthen our medical frontliners to cope with the cases at hand.

Faster response time

One of the key challenges faced was the long response time at the Covid-19 Assessment Centre (CAC). Due to the escalating cases, our CACs were indeed overwhelmed.

I have often repeated the mantra: CAC is the first station in a patient’s Covid-19 journey. Hence response time must be prompt and seamless so that the patient can move on quickly to the next station for treatment and recuperation.

The additional personnel redeployed to Penang discussed in the previous section helped to increase work speed at the CAC.

The Penang state government also provided extra manpower to assist the CAC call centre to clear off backlog cases.

The good news is, the Health Ministry also decided to implement virtual CAC (vCAC) starting last Wednesday. This is a system similar to the one implemented in Klang Valley. With vCAC, response time is substantially shortened because assessment can now be done virtually on a patient’s Mysejahtera app without needing to be physically present at the CAC. With the quicker response time, patients and their family members can then focused on treatment and recuperation instead of fretting over bureaucratic processes.

Vaccination programme in full gear 

Slightly more than a week after Penang allowed Malaysians to walk-in for vaccination at vaccination centres (PPV) in the state, last week on 17 September 2021, foreigners were allowed the same in four designated PPVs namely, Spice Convention Centre, Dewan Milenium, SP Arena, and Dewan Serbaguna Sungai Bakap.

It is clear that in this pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. We need to ensure the vaccination of foreigners, migrant workers, refugees and even undocumented immigrants in our midst to fully cut off the Covid-19 infection chain.

Recently, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin (pictured) announced that teenagers aged between 12-17 will be able to receive their vaccines soon, and the original plan was to vaccinate them in their respective schools. Last week, I wrote to the minister to request him to allow walk-ins at existing PPVs for teenagers whose parents wish to have earlier vaccination for their children. I hope a decision can be made soon on this.

Lesser cases, lower ICU BOR but we must continue to be on high alert

After a week of intense operation and hard work on the part of the state and federal governments, Penang is beginning to witness a drop in daily cases.

Our ICU BOR is also reduced from beyond 100% at the beginning of September 2021 to 92.4% as of 20 September 2021. This is due to the combined factors of increased number of ICU beds and reduced number of admissions.

Our ICUs and hospitalisation rate, though reduced, are still high. Our Brought-in-Dead (BID) cases are second in the country at 25% of our total Covid-19 deaths (Source: https://codeblue.galencentre.org/2021/09/21/where-are-covid-19-bids-dying-in-malaysia/), we still have to ensure PKRCs have cleaner and better facilities, especially to cater for senior citizens, people with disabilities and pregnant mothers.

Overall, we must continue to ensure a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to fight this pandemic together. I would like to thank the Chief Minister of Penang, Chow Kon Yeow and Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, for demonstrating how an all-party collaboration with aggressive actions based on science and facts can go a long way to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Steven Sim

MP for Bukit Mertajam

State-federal coordinator for Covid-19 management in Penang

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