After Singapore recorded its first coronavirus case on 23 January 2020, Tzu Chi Singapore sprang into action by setting up an epidemic relief committee and initiated a series of outbreak relief programs to show care and love to the community.
On 21 February 2020, some 145 of care packages containing a packet of Tzu Chi instant rice, several packets of Tzu Chi tea sachet and beverage mix, a bottle of vitamin C, two apples, an origami heart and a greeting card were prepared by a handful of volunteers and Tzu Chi staff at Jing Si Hall. After previously distributing blessings gifts for healthcare practitioners in hospitals and also volunteers and staff who work in Tzu Chi’s medical and education establishments, Tzu Chi continues to send love to active members of Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) who regularly volunteer their services at Tzu Chi’s local free clinics and oversea medical missions. These gestures of care and appreciation by Tzu Chi to TIMA members were carried out between 23 February and 11 March 2020.
Beginning 23 January 2020, healthcare personnel in Singapore are instructed by the Health Authority to only work at their own clinic or one hospital and not travel to other medical institutions to prevent cross infection. With that, TIMA members are not able to volunteer their services at any Tzu Chi free clinic locally. The regular overseas Medial free clinic which they regularly participated in Sri Lanka and Cambodia are also cancelled indefinitely.
Gearing up for the outbreak
Ever since COVID-19 lands in Singapore, things aren’t the same for most of the healthcare workers as they are required to practice extra cautions to protect themselves whilst attending to their patients. Besides having to do shifts and slightly longer working hours for some of them, everyone has to make adjustments to adhere to the latest guidelines set by the Ministry of Health.
General Practitioner Dr. Kee Kok Wai shared, “Working hours are slightly longer than before and we sometimes have to make adjustments to the workflow based on the latest guidelines from the Ministry of Health because the preventive measures have to be ready for the next day.”
Besides changes in the workflow, Dr. Ho Eu Chin who works in a hospital shared that he has to do more weekend shifts and night shifts but not necessarily longer hours. He further added, “It is more tiring now because of the protective gears that we wear, so even if we are working the same hours, we feel more tired because it is harder to breathe as the suits are waterproof. However, at the end of the day most of us don’t mind because it is for protection and we are doing this to serve the country and help people.”
Ms. Chua Siew Lee who shares the same sentiment as Dr Ho said that medical staff must now wear full medical personal protective equipment and shield masks before conducting any operation. However, she also shared that medical workers working in operating theater are not as affected as those working in the frontline in terms of working hours because most of the less urgent operations have been postponed.
For doctors who neither works in a hospital nor a clinic, Dr. Lim Ying Yin shared that her company is currently implementing a business continuity plan where one team travels to the patients’ place directly from home while the other team works in the office as usual and both teams do not meet each other physically for risk management purposes.
For some private healthcare practice, doctors are seeing less patients now. Dr. Lewis Liew, a urologist commented that he is seeing less patients now as some patients have chosen to postpone their appointments when there is no urgency to visit a clinic.
Discrimination change for the better
When the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases started to climb in early February, news of healthcare workers being discriminated broke out in the media where some healthcare workers were told to get off public transport or prevented from using the lift. Some healthcare workers also shared that it was harder to get a ride from taxis or private ride at the early stages of the outbreak, however, things changed for the better rather quickly.
“Initially if you try to book a grab ride and you put this hospital as your destination, it is hard to get a ride, so in the past we had to put the shopping centre next door as the destination, however, that kind of situation happened only for a short period, now not anymore. I think people are more accepting now so I think the perception has changed as well,” shared Dr. Ho Eu Chin.
Thoughtful gifts of love and appreciation
Soon after news of healthcare workers being discriminated broke out on media, the society responded by pouring lots of love and appreciation for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers at the frontline through giving of care packages, wish cards, online wishes and also food.
“We also saw a lot of kindergarten children who would paint some drawings for us and parents who bring along their children to hand over some care packages for us. The day before yesterday, there was a small gift of Vitamin C, hand sanitizer, some facial products for eye protection, given by a mother and some greeting cards written by the children. It was actually quite heart warming,” shared Dr. Kee Kok Wai with smile on his face.
Equally touched by the acts of kindness from the society, Wong Sook Thow, a nurse working in Sengkang General Hospital said, “We are definitely very grateful to the society and community. In this hard time, they have been very kind to us, showing us a lot of kindness, giving us a lot of words of encouragement, that is very nice to encourage us to work even harder.”