When Madam Fiari Suhaimi, 35, and her five-year-old son visited a clinic on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in June for a routine check-up, she assumed there were health protocols to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Instead, she and her son found themselves in the same waiting room as a family they later learnt had tested positive for the virus.
Several days later, Madam Fiari, her son and her husband also tested positive for the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“We were waiting for our turn at a clinic when a family of four came out of the consultation room. We continued waiting in the same area as them for about 15 minutes before my son was called in,” the administration clerk told The Straits Times.
“We returned to the waiting area after that. That’s when we heard the nurse casually telling the family that they had all tested positive and were to self-quarantine at home. I was horrified.”
Daily Covid-19 cases in Malaysia have continued to chart record highs, fuelled by the more transmissible Delta strain.
Yesterday, new daily cases hit 19,819 – the highest since the pandemic began, while the daily death toll was 257, also a record.
Malaysia’s health chief Noor Hisham Abdullah had previously warned that the number of new cases would increase as the Delta variant, which can be easily transmitted by air, has been detected in almost every state.
Madam Fiari said she had assumed that the clinic would sanitise its premises regularly and keep potential Covid-19 patients in a separate area.
After she and her family tested positive, the Health Ministry said they might have been exposed to the virus at the clinic. However, only genome sequencing can conclusively pinpoint if they were indeed infected there.
However, experts say lax measures at private clinics are not the only factor at play.
“It’s not impossible (for it to happen) because most clinics have poor airflow as they were converted from normal shoplots. They don’t have a negative-pressure room to treat patients with infectious illnesses like in hospitals,” Professor Sazaly Abu Bakar, director of the Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre at Universiti Malaya, told ST.
“GPs have never experienced handling infectious diseases on this scale before, so I don’t think it’s just poor protocols practised by them,” he said, referring to general practitioners.
He said that GPs must consider improving their clinics’ air circulation, and it is something that “needs to permanently change”.
“Not just for Covid-19 but also for measles and influenza. Before this, people took these things for granted, but Covid-19 teaches us not to take airflow for granted – it’s critical and pivotal,” he said.
He said that patients should also be screened before they enter a clinic.
Meanwhile, the fear of randomly contracting the coronavirus has led some to stop seeking medical help.
Madam Hazlina Hussein, who has a six-year-old son, told ST: “My son is overdue for his chickenpox vaccination and I have been delaying it because I am very worried about the high number of (Covid-19) cases in Kuala Lumpur.”
The 42-year-old advertising executive added: “I know his vaccination is important, but now that private hospitals are treating Covid-19 patients, I don’t know if it is safe to go to one.”
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