Malaysia's critical wards filling up amid Covid-19 surge

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s increasingly deadly coronavirus surge is stretching its medical resources, with critical wards filling up and some patients being turned away or experiencing long waits.

This is taking place even as more spaces are being converted to Covid-19 wards.

Non-Covid-19 patients are also feeling the pain, as capacity for their needs has been reduced.

The authorities have said the country, which now has more cases per million people than India, has yet to reach the stage where health workers have to triage – selecting patients for care based on their chances of survival.

But there are signs that families are beginning to have to make such decisions about their loved ones amid the crisis.

A healthcare worker at a key hospital in Kuala Lumpur said that some patients requiring critical care have had to be turned away.

“We try to accommodate all but not always we have ventilators and beds,” the front-liner, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Straits Times.

The healthcare worker said that the squeeze is now affecting non-Covid-19 patients as well, as more priority is given to coronavirus patients.

He related an incident where a critically ill non-Covid-19 patient’s family was told to opt between bringing their loved one back home to die or keeping the patient in the hospital with the same outcome.

A professional who recently lost her father, 85, to coronavirus-related complications, said that when he was diagnosed with Covid-19, it took the family more than 12 hours to secure a bed for him.

The 51-year-old, who wished to be known only as Jane, told ST: “The doctor who was caring for my father called every hospital in the city to try and get a bed for him once the test result came back positive. It was a stressful time for us because he was also a dialysis patient.”

The beds were full at all the hospitals that treated Covid-19 patients needing critical care, and after a wait lasting more than 12 hours, a bed opened up at a semi-government hospital in Selangor.

The northern state of Kedah – which has seen a drastic surge in the past weeks – has said that it might no longer admit chronically ill patients with little hope into intensive care units (ICU), whether they are Covid-19 patients or not.

Dr Mohd Hayati Othman, the state’s Health and Local Government executive councillor, said: “I feel heavy-hearted on whether to announce this, but I have to say it: In certain cases, doctors have to choose whom to send to the ICU, and if the patient is too chronically ill and has no hope, we won’t admit them to the ICU.”

Jane, whose father was very ill when he was in hospital, said: “Halfway through his treatment, the doctor treating him called me up and hinted that he (the father) might be taking an ICU bed that is sorely needed for someone else.”

Malaysia has for the past week been reporting more than 50 deaths a day from the coronavirus. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Malaysia is currently in the third week of a month-long lockdown – the third since the pandemic – to deal with the rising infection numbers.

However, the lockdown has shown no signs of easing the caseload, with the country consistently breaching record infection figures and record deaths in the past week. A record number of patients are admitted in intensive care units.

In the central districts around the capital Kuala Lumpur, the rate of ICU usage for Covid-19 cases has already exceeded capacity at 113 per cent.

Figures released last week showed that 377 ICU beds were taken up by Covid-19 patients, despite only 334 beds being initially designated for such patients. This has also left just over 70 vacant ICU beds for non-Covid-19 patients across 12 hospitals in Malaysia’s most densely populated region. Nationwide, 83 per cent of all designated Covid-19 ICU beds were taken up.

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As at Thursday, Malaysia has 771 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, with more than half of them requiring ventilator support – the highest number recorded to date.

The country has for the past week been reporting more than 50 deaths a day from Covid-19, reaching an all-time high of 61 deaths on Sunday.

On Thursday, Malaysia set a new record of 7,857 new infections, the third consecutive day of new record infections. Active cases have reached 69,408, the highest ever recorded.

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