By Dr Cecilia Chan, Vice President of AGECOPE (Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia)
Malaysia has been placed under a full-scale lockdown for two weeks from June 1 to 14, 2021. The decision was made by the National Security Council in a special meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
The statement directed that all sectors are not allowed to operate during this first phase of lockdown except for essential economic and services sectors.
This has significantly impacted the aged care sector as it is indisputably an essential service sector. There appears to be an oversight of this that has led to an industrial operational turmoil amongst operators. Due to the sudden changes of implementation at the eleventh hour of this directive, the industry has found itself in a quagmire of horrendous inaccessibility to travel permits for staff and uncertainties with work-related travel permits. A case in point is the short notice of change from being able to acquire the permits from their local ministries for the approval of permits on May 30, only to be available from MITI on May 31, made effective within 24 hours. To further complicate matters and increasing frustrations, the challenges of overcoming the bureaucracy of the system and its requirements, as well as the MITI system crashing due to being overwhelmed by the enormous demand, generated further compounded anxieties.
This has left the entire aged care sector in limbo, confused and angry through no fault of theirs but the incapability of the system to cope and accommodate the requirements of travel permits. There also seem to be a lack of understanding by MITI that their insistence of only facilities that are licensed to operate will be eligible to apply. They need to acknowledge that there are many operators who are not in possession of a licence but have a permit to operate whilst their licences are being processed, and these are the ones who are mainly caught in this dilemma. The processing of their licences takes time and goes through many layers of departmental processing. It is unfair for them to be penalised. In the scheme of things, it is ultimately the elderly residents of aged care facilities that are the ones suffering and sadly, they may also be placed at higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. If there is an outbreak in such facilities, it will be lamentable and disastrous.
As an industry-interested party, we implore the government of the day to give utmost priority to this and have a clear roadmap for workers in the aged care sector to travel to and from work without uncertainty or fear of being fined. The effort to secure this will greatly complement the government’s strategy to flatten the COVID-19 curve significantly. We implore the government to address this as a matter of utmost urgency to alleviate the anxiety of the industry. A simplified and direct process of application with clarity will go a long way towards achieving this.