How healthcare workers have ‘carried the can’ in Singapore’s Covid-19 battle

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In the book launched on Thursday (Jan 20), the chapter “Battle in the hospitals” relates how the healthcare sector had to shoulder the lone, massive responsibility of treating and caring for the infected from the moment the virus arrived in January 2020 – at least until the home recovery scheme started late last year.

Healthcare workers such as nurses also share stories about managing anxious and distraught family members who were kept away from their loved ones, of being shunned by the public, and feeling helpless and overwhelmed when patients died.

When the Delta variant began wreaking havoc from August last year, there was no time to rest for healthcare staff like Singapore General Hospital assistant nurse clinician Chester Chow, 32.

He recalls in the book how he could be in a room with a critically ill patient for up to three hours, carrying out one procedure after another. And sometimes, family members would take out their frustrations on the staff.

“At different points in time, some of us wanted to give up,” Mr Chow told journalists from The Straits Times. “But we talked, supported and encouraged one another.”

Paranoia over healthcare workers being contaminated with the virus also spilled over at the initial stages of the pandemic, causing some to avoid wearing their uniforms while taking public transport.

National University Hospital senior staff nurse Nathanael Tan was in regular clothes when he hailed a taxi to work one day. Yet, he was quizzed by the driver on why he was going to the hospital’s emergency department before the cabby eventually allowed him to board.

The cabby kept his windows down for the entire trip, said Mr Tan, 30.

The number of abuse or harassment cases reported by public healthcare workers rose from 1,200 in 2019, to 1,400 as at the end of November last year, while 1,500 workers resigned in the first half of 2021, compared with 2,000 annually before the pandemic.

But Singaporeans have by and large rallied behind healthcare workers, with recovered patients interviewed for the book expressing appreciation and recognition for them as heroes of the pandemic.

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