KUALA LUMPUR: When Mel Youlanda had fever and severe gastric pain one evening, she feared that she had contracted COVID-19.
She wanted to head to the nearest hospital to get tested or at least see a doctor at a nearby clinic, but she simply could not.
The 41-year-old from Sabah lives in Menara City One condominium, which is located in one of Malaysia’s COVID-19 red zones.
The apartment complex, located in Kuala Lumpur’s city centre, has been placed under enhanced movement control order (MCO) since Mar 30 after a resident who was linked to the Sri Petaling Mosque tabligh gathering cluster tested positive for COVID-19.
So far, a total of 54 COVID-19 cases have been reported at the condominium and one resident, a Pakistani national, has died. The rest of the residents like Youlanda have been forced to remain inside their apartment units for the last month.
The area is tightly guarded by armed police and army personnel patrolling the condominium entrances to ensure that no unauthorised personnel come into the area and residents do not leave.
“I am scared. Everybody is afraid,” she said in a phone interview with CNA.
“When I was sick, I had to call the condominium management, and it was late at night so they told me I had to wait until 8am the next day to see a doctor,” she recounted.
NO ACCESS TO 24/7 MEDICAL SERVICES
She explained that all residents who wanted to see a doctor were told they could only do so between 8am and noon each day at the ground floor.
“My pain at my stomach was bad so I pleaded for a doctor but they insisted that I only come down the next morning,” she recounted.
“I’m worried because what if this was a real emergency, would we still need to wait until the next day? It’s a nightmare, I don’t know what else to say,” she added.
She eventually met the doctor the following morning and got medication to treat her "stomach flu". However, some of her other neighbours with more pressing needs for medical care were not so lucky.
Youlanda recalled how one of her close friends, who lived on a different floor, ended up giving birth at the condominium’s lift lobby due to a delay in emergency medical services arriving.
The woman had called for an ambulance at 6.30am after her water bag burst but it only arrived at 8am, she claimed.
“If we were not under lockdown, someone could have driven her to the hospital but all the residents were locked in. So, she gave birth downstairs while waiting for the ambulance,” she said.
“We need the health ministry to take this seriously. Although we are quarantined, we cannot be denied access to emergency health care services.”
She stressed that it was important for residents to have access to doctors 24 hours a day, especially since the residents are at risk of contracting COVID-19.
NO FRUITS, VEGETABLES OR FRESH MEAT
Youlanda lives with five other people in her condominium unit, including two children. All of them are tenants of the unit.
She highlighted that one of the biggest issues she and her housemates face is that they have not been able to consume wholesome and healthy meals since the enhanced MCO was enforced.
As they are not able to do their own groceries, she said that they would collect food supplies distributed by the authorities. But the supplies mainly comprised uncooked rice, flour, sugar, eggs, canned sardine and instant noodles.
“We had hoped for vegetables, fruits like papayas or bananas, chicken and fresh fish but we got none of this. There’s no point having many plates of rice when there’s no wholesome dishes to accompany them,” she said.
“My stomach would get upset after every meal, eating the same thing. And with instant noodles, it’s just not healthy to be eating them on a regular basis."
As there was no variety in the food provided, she and her housemates would have only one “proper meal” a day, usually comprising rice, eggs and sardine. For the rest of the day, they make do with bread or biscuits.
When asked if she could make requests for the officials to help make specific purchases for the residents, Youlanda said it was difficult to convey these requests as face-to-face communication was restricted to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Beside fruits and vegetables, I’d also like to request for things like shampoo, soap and detergent to keep me and my house clean. But I’m not so sure how we can convey this to the officials,” she added.
She stated that whenever the authorities were distributing food supplies, only one person from each household was allowed to leave the unit to collect them. Moreover, in her experience, the officials did not have much time to take requests from individual units to purchase specific groceries.
Earlier this month, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that food will be provided for residents held within enhanced MCO premises.
Additionally, he maintained that all residents will be able to obtain essential items by placing a request with the operations centre within the premises.
OVERCROWDING OF RESIDENTS A CONCERN
Overcrowding of residents at Menara City One condominium at centralised locations recently gained national attention, after photos of residents queueing in line to be tested for COVID-19 went viral on social media.
In the photos, the residents were seen standing shoulder to shoulder in long queues.
Speaking in a press conference on Saturday (Apr 25), Malaysian Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said the overcrowding at the condominium was a concern. He noted that the implementation of the testing could have been improved to ensure that residents practiced social distancing.
He added that residents were told to come down in batches. However, in a statement reported by local media, condominium residents and the management committee maintained that health ministry officials had demanded that they come down together at once for screening.
When asked, Youlanda said that residents in her unit were luckily not among those who were asked to be tested. However, she still fears that she may be tested positive.
“I heard news that one by one of our neighbours had tested positive, and one person I know is in critical condition. It’s not easy to live like this,” she said.
To take her mind off the stressful situation, she would clean her house, surf the internet and talk to her housemates.
She works for a law firm but she admitted that her job is the least of her concerns at the moment.
“I haven’t been able to do any work while in quarantine, so I don’t think I’ll be getting the full salary for this coming month. But I don’t really know, I have not been in contact with my superiors since the MCO,” she said.
What she looks forward to most is being able to buy her own necessities, when the restrictions are eventually lifted.
Malaysia’s nationwide MCO, which began on Mar 18, has since been extended until May 12.
However, she admitted that it would be “wishful thinking” to assume that the enhanced MCO on Menara City One condominium would be lifted together with the nationwide MCO.
“I think we’ve got a long way to go before freedom. The number of cases here is still above 50. If more people get discharged and hopefully there are no more new cases, we can look forward to it,” she said.
“In the meantime, we just have to hang in there.”