How Malaysians in New York are coping with the Covid-19 crisis

  • People
  • Thursday, 09 Apr 2020

Because of the pandemic, all modelling work is on hold and Tan is keeping herself busy at home.

As global figures of positive Covid-19 infections continue to skyrocket past an alarming 1.36 million infections (at press time), all eyes are focused on the newly-declared virus epicentre – New York.

The United States has far surpassed all other countries by recording over 367,000 cases, of which New York counts more than 131,000 cases and 4,700 deaths. These unfathomable numbers have turned “The City That Never Sleeps” into one that unfortunately much resembles an apocalyptic scene in a zombie movie.

With the virus unrelenting, we touched base with a few Malaysians living in New York.

Boon Chin, product strategy manager, Verizon

Boon Chin and his family depend on online services for their groceries. Boon Chin and his family depend on online services for their groceries.My wife, our two kids and I returned from Malaysia on Feb 29 after Chinese New Year. We arrived to an America that was unprepared for the Covid-19 outbreak. Landing at Newark airport, there was no temperature checks, no questions about our health conditions and no one was wearing masks.

We decided to self-quarantine ourselves and worked from home starting March 1. The explosion of cases started happening around March 11.

Covid-19 has rendered working from home the new normal for me. My daughter who is four years old has had her preschool cancelled. So we have been working and taking care of the kids at the same time.

A week ago we were still brave enough to get groceries, given the partial lockdown. Now we try to order our food and groceries online. We felt safer in Malaysia than we do here, with the lack of supplies and resources of the healthcare system to deal with Covid-19 in New York City. I wouldn’t discount the Americans’ ability to overcome this, but I foresee that many people will die from this as the country was so ill-prepared to face Covid-19.

I think we are lucky enough that we can work from home. But my heart really goes out to those who have to brave the situation outside to provide for their family.

Juanita Fernandez, team leader at an insurance company

I live with two roommates. One of my roommates had slight symptoms a couple of weeks ago. I’ve just been trying to keep some distance, which is hard in a small apartment. Her boss had tested positive for Covid-19 so it’s likely that’s what my roommate has. Fortunately, I’m feeling well.

My company had us start working from home from March 12. It’s been an adjustment and it’s been hard sticking to a schedule on my own, but I’m lucky I’m able to work from home.

I work at a health insurance company and some work has been affected as my job is related to encouraging people to go for check-ups, but since they shouldn’t go outside, we’re trying to figure out how to adapt to this situation.

Juanita with her late dad and mum at the High Line.Juanita with her late dad and mum at the High Line.

The hardest thing is having to postpone an upcoming trip back to Malaysia – I had planned to visit my family in May for Hari Raya and it would’ve been the first time I went back since September 2019 when I lost my dad (Johan Fernandez, former editor of Star Metro).

I know how fragile life is and I was hoping to spend more time with my family going forward. And right now I don’t know when I’ll see them again.

Kim Ong, Vice President, Barclays

Although the situation is worrying, Ong and his family are calm. Although the situation is worrying, Ong and his family are calm.Initially we were a bit worried, but a steady stream of communication from Governor (Andrew) Cuomo has helped calm a lot of the New Yorkers.

Daily updates (stats and actions) have been reassuring for us. Most New Yorkers have carried on and adjusted, as typical New Yorkers are resilient and highly adaptable.

New Yorkers react to any crisis by banding together regardless of race and economic status. They help each other.

You can see people volunteering masks, gloves and food to help the people in need. And you still see New Yorkers doing what they can to stay fit.

Yes, our numbers are higher than every other state, but things are calm. No rioting or violence.

Sarah Zaid, Corporate Beauty Executive

Sarah, here with her sisters, is hoping things get better soon.Sarah, here with her sisters, is hoping things get better soon.It’s pretty dire here since conditions have worsened and New York is pretty much the epicentre of this outbreak. We just have to pray that this will all be over soon.

I’m currently riding this out in my home and staying positive. I have only left the house for essential things and perhaps a daily walk/run. Keeping a routine is important to maintain a sense of stability and purpose.

They have announced today that the playgrounds will be closed as people were still going there with their children.

I’m not currently working as I was supposed to be on vacation overseas, but flights have since been cancelled and travel is not advised at this time.

Ling Tan, Supermodel

I’m living in my house just north of New York City, in a beautiful town called Tarrytown, Westchester County on The Hudson River.

During the day I work in my backyard garden, cook in the evening and at night I watch The Metropolitan Opera online. Luckily my neighbourhood is next to many beautiful parks, like the Rockefeller State Park Preserve where I can walk when the weather is nice.

After I read the news about Wuhan City lockdown on Jan 23 and then, the Beijing lockdown followed by the Shanghai lockdown, it made sense to me to be prepared.

Model Ling Tan was somewhat prepared before New York went into lockdown.Model Ling Tan was somewhat prepared before New York went into lockdown.

So, I stocked up on food to boost my immunity, N95 masks, and other supplies in anticipation of the Coronavirus outbreak hitting New York.

Since social distancing was announced on March 16, my modelling photoshoots have all been cancelled.

All modelling agencies are closed. Everyone works from home – except for the police, fire brigade, doctors in hospitals, nurses and healthcare workers, supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware store workers, restaurant chefs and delivery guys, subway and train station workers, post office, UPS and FedEx delivery guys, they are all working normal hours.

Sue-Lynn Ng, Teacher

I’m actually living in Bergen County (New Jersey), where many people travel from to work in New York City. I’m a teacher, and all schools have been closed for the past two weeks. My two young children and I spend all day, every day, at home.

During this time, I’m very grateful to have moved to suburbia, where we have a nice backyard for the children to run around in and a washer/dryer conveniently located at home.

Ng and her husband are grateful to have a backyard to move about it. Ng and her husband are grateful to have a backyard to move about it.

The only person who leaves the house now is my husband, who dons gloves and a mask to do the weekly grocery shopping. It’s quite an operation... once he gets home he’d wipe down all the door knobs, toss what he’s wearing into the laundry, and get into the shower.

We plan our meals very carefully now, making sure that we don’t have to run back to the store unnecessarily.

We have registered for a produce box to be delivered starting next week and are aiming to only have to leave the house for groceries twice a month.

Yvonne Ng, Finance Manager

I lived in Elmhurst, which is now called the centre of the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak. My house is next to the Queens Center Mall, which used to always be crowded, especially on the weekends. It has never been so quiet, all I hear all day long now is ambulance sirens, way too often and it is scary.Though it is challenging, Ng and her family are grateful to be safe.Though it is challenging, Ng and her family are grateful to be safe.

I have a two-year-old child and a five-month-old baby. This is the third week we are working from home, with my oldest son’s daycare closed, and my nanny has stopped coming since a few weeks ago as she didn’t feel comfortable with taking the public transportation anymore.

It is very challenging to work from home with two little ones.

Some Chinese grocery stores have started closing this week and online grocery delivery services which used to deliver within a two-hour window are either not available anymore or are now taking more than a week to deliver.

Although life is more stressful than before, I am blessed that we have the opportunity to work from home and my family is staying safe at home.

Thank you so much to all the healthcare workers who are fighting the battle, hopefully we can flatten the curve soon!

Zang Toi, Fashion Designer

Like all small, medium, and even some large businesses, we all have a small amount of ready cash flow. However, let’s pray that this tragic war with Covid-19 will be over soon. Otherwise the economy will collapse, and tens of millions will suffer.

Zang Toi sends his love to Malaysians back home.Zang Toi sends his love to Malaysians back home.

New Yorkers are united to fight this virus by following the government’s guideline to stay in and to stay safe.

I am abiding to the guideline as well by staying in, except for my daily one-hour runs in Central Park in the early evening... running fast and far away from others!

Sending my love to my fellow Malaysians during this challenging time. Please stay strong, please stay safe.

I pray for the world to recover from Covid-19 soon, so we can get back to work, to rebuild the economy.”

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Malaysians abroad , covid-19


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