Malaysia has been placed under a full-scale lockdown for two weeks from 1 June to 14 June. All sectors are not allowed to operate during the first phase of this lockdown except for essential economic and services.
This has hit the elderly care sector as it is indisputably an essential service sector. This apparent oversight has led to industrial operational turmoil among care home operators.
Due to the sudden changes of implementation at the eleventh hour of this directive, the industry has found itself in a quagmire: the horrendous inaccessibility of 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 to approval of permits on 30 May, only for such permits to be available from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) on 31 May, effectively within 24 hours.
To complicate matters and increase frustrations, the challenges of overcoming the bureaucracy of the system and its requirements as well as the Miti system crashing after being overwhelmed by the enormous demand further compounded anxieties.
This has left the entire aged care sector in limbo, confused and angry through no fault of theirs, due to the incapability of the system to cope and accommodate the requirements of travel permits.
There also seems to be a lack of understanding by Miti over its insistence that only facilities that are licensed to operate would be eligible to apply. The ministry must appreciate that many operators who are not in possession of a licence but have a permit to operate while their licences are being processed are now caught in a 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 who are the ones suffering. Sadly, they may also be placed at higher risk of contracting Covid. If there is an outbreak in such facilities, it would be lamentable and disastrous.
We implore the government to give utmost priority to this and formulate 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 would greatly complement the government’s strategy to flatten the Covid curve significantly.
We implore the government to address this urgently to ease the anxiety of the industry. A simplified and direct process of application with clarity would go a long way towards achieving this.
Dr Cecilia Chan is vice-president of the Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia (Agecope)