Covid rise tests Malaysian hospitals
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Covid rise tests Malaysian hospitals

Philippines reopens wards as Asean countries deal with ebb and flow of disease

An elderly resident receives a Covid-19 vaccination in Manila in March 2021. (AFP File Photo)
An elderly resident receives a Covid-19 vaccination in Manila in March 2021. (AFP File Photo)

Rising Covid-19 cases are threatening to overstrain Malaysia’s crowded hospitals and the Philippines has reopened its coronavirus treatment wards amid a surge in Southeast Asia, underscoring the need for governments to adjust to the disease’s ebb and flow in a world now living with the virus.

More than 70% of government hospital beds in Malaysia were occupied as of April 29, up from 50% a week earlier. Authorities have appealed to anyone testing positive to abide by a mandated seven-day quarantine in an effort to stem the pressure on its medical system. 

The jump is being fuelled by gatherings over the recent long Hari Raya Aidilfitri holiday, with the country also recording 20 deaths in the two weeks to April 29 — 25% more fatalities than in the previous 14 days.

In the Philippines, positive rates among people tested jumped from just 7% at the start of April to 17% by the end of the month. Its health department has since asked hospitals to reopen Covid treatment facilities in a bid to curb the spike in cases, despite more than 80% of the country’s regular hospital beds and intensive care units sitting empty. 

Cases have also risen in Vietnam, which has reimposed some pandemic-era restrictions in key cities. Indoor mask-wearing mandates have been in effect since late last month in public spaces in Hanoi, while Ho Chi Minh City has ordered masks to be worn again on school campuses. 

And in Singapore, rising demand from an ageing population had by the end of last month driven up waiting times for admittance to hospital wards to seven hours — from five hours just two weeks earlier — according to its health ministry. A rise in Covid hospital admissions in the city-state only stands to fuel the strain. 

The surge comes as healthcare systems in Southeast Asia have already been under strain following years of the pandemic, so the prospect of hospital resources coming under further pressure is ringing officials’ alarm bells.

One of the biggest sources of pressure is acute medical staff shortages, following Covid-era exoduses over gruelling hours and low pay.

Developing nations in the region, including the Philippines — the world’s biggest exporter of nurses — are also disadvantaged in a global bidding war for doctors, nurses and other personnel by deeper-pocketed countries similarly in need of medical workers.

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