Healthcare workers, especially in the intensive care unit at the federal territory of Labuan are overwhelmed amid an outbreak of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus, which has claimed 68 lives on the island this month.
Malaysiakini learnt that the ICU, which is under-resourced, was facing “oxygen issues” as the hospital was not built to cope with such an outbreak.
Those familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to the media, said low oxygen alarms were heard in the ICU.
This is because the hospital’s infrastructure meant it could not use a vacuum-insulated evaporator to store bulk liquid oxygen “due to a pressure issue”, it is learnt.
Instead, staff members have to routinely replace tanks of oxygen every 45 minutes, to ensure patients relying on respirators will get the supply needed.
It is also learnt that the small ICU team was also unable to cope with the large number of Covid-19 patients requiring care and are working in their personal protective equipment while “drenched in sweat” because the ward’s air-conditioning is faulty.
Photographs allegedly of the ICU sighted by Malaysiakini showed each patient separated from others by transparent plastic curtains.
Health Director: Issues resolved, more help to come
When contacted on these issues, Labuan Health director Dr Ismuni Bohari (above) said additional human resources have been deployed to assist Labuan in managing the outbreak.
Asked specifically if the ICU’s human resources and oxygen issues have been addressed, he told Malaysiakini: “Sudah. (It has been addressed.)”
Ismuni said the significant increase had made Labuan the area in the country with the highest rate of Covid-19 cases at 4,734 cases per 100,000 population.
"This high incidence of cases is believed to be due to the Delta variant which was first detected in the Federal Territory of Labuan on April 23, 2021," he said.
Confirming sources claims that Labuan Hospital had been overwhelmed, Ismuni said that the original capacity of Labuan Hospital was 122 beds for Covid-19 treatment, with only four ICU beds and 20 standard ward beds allocated for Covid-19 patients.
"However, with the activation of the Labuan Hospital contingency plan, this number has been improved by increasing the number of ICU beds to 23 beds and 183 beds were provided for Covid-19 treatment.
"On June 19 (yesterday), 14 ICU beds (60 percent) and 159 Covid-19 treatment beds (87 percent) were in use," he said.
Field hospital to open next week
The Health Ministry is also planning on opening a field hospital at the Labuan Corporation Hall, in collaboration with the Malaysian Armed Forces and the NGO, Mercy Malaysia, said Ismuni.
The field hospital will have 100 beds, including four ICU beds, and is expected to start operating on June 26.
The PKRC Training Institute, which has a capacity of 299 beds, will continue to be used for quarantine and treatment of low-risk Covid-19 patients, and the Covid-19 Assessment Centre (CAC) will be strengthened to monitor those in quarantine at home, he said.
Earlier, the minister in charge of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (NIP), Khairy Jamaluddin said Labuan will be supplied with enough Covid-19 vaccines to immunise its entire adult population by mid-next month.
Ismuni told Malaysiakini that Labuan would be the first territory in Malaysia to vaccinate at least 80 percent - or about 72,400 - of eligible residents.
“We have developed a suitable programme to ensure vaccination can be completed within six to eight weeks,” Ismuni said.
To support this, the existing vaccination capacity of 1,200 doses a day will be upgraded to 3,000 doses a day, through the opening of two more vaccination centres, namely Labuan Matriculation College Vaccination Centre and the Taman Mutiara Labuan Vaccination Centre.
"This vaccination capability will continue to increase up to 5,000 doses per day with the opening of the two additional centres, drive-through vaccination centres as well as mobile vaccination teams to be implemented in the near future,” he said.
Labuan Rt higher than national
Ismuni added that from May 1 to June 10, the Labuan Health Department screened 42,687 individuals and conducted 36,198 tests.
He added that the enhanced movement control order imposed on Labuan has tightened entry control, including a requirement for a negative RT-PCR Covid-19 test three days prior to admission.
"The controls have also shown positive signs with Rt (infectivity rate) having been successfully reduced from 2.3 to 1.0," he said.
An Rt rate of above 1.0 means the infection is likely spreading exponentially. An Rt of 2 indicates that on average, each case will create two new cases.
On June 19, the Health Ministry said the national Rt is 0.96, while Johor is the state with the highest Rt at 0.99.