PETALING JAYA: Not every Covid-19 patient has suitable accommodation to self-isolate, especially those from the B40 community who more often than not are living in cramped conditions in homes shared with many others.
For this reason, Crisis Relief Services and Training (CREST) stepped in to convert two hotels into donor-funded, volunteer-run private quarantine centres to serve Category 1 and 2 patients in the B40 group for free.
Its executive director Cheong Chee Keen said the idea was sparked in June after seeing how government-run centres were overburdened.
“We started getting in touch with government agencies and look around for willing hotel owners to start the process of operating a private quarantine centre.
“Back in June, when cases were climbing up, we had the idea to start quarantine centres for Covid-19 patients under the B40 group who do not have a suitable place to isolate themselves.
“We targeted the B40 as they are the most vulnerable to infect others as many of these patients live with multi-generational families in one house,” he said in an interview.
Cheong said while the government was implementing various measures to contain cases such as contact tracing, testing, quarantine, treatment and vaccination, they decided to step in and assist.
As a non-governmental organisation (NGO), CREST has been providing disaster response for over 21 years.
“With the pandemic being the country’s biggest health crisis, we knew that we must go above and beyond to help.
“So we started looking around and after getting consent from the hotel owners to convert their premises into a quarantine centre for very minimal charges, we moved into the inspection phase, which took two months.
“This was important to ensure that the quarantine centre is aligned with all the standard operating procedure set by the authorities,” said Cheong.
On Aug 7, CREST’s quarantine centre at the Travelodge City Centre Hotel in Kuala Lumpur started accepting Covid-19 patients.
Its second quarantine centre, which is located at Mei Hotel in Penang, started operations on Oct 1.
Cheong said they were only authorised to take in asymptomatic patients or those with mild symptoms.
They also accept patients who are referred by the district health offices (PKD) but not those who walk in at both centres, which are fully supported and funded by donations from the general public.
The patients, comprising B40 Malaysians, migrants and refugees, are provided with three square halal meals daily and regular health monitoring.
“The patients are only required to bring their Covid-19 test results, referral letter from the PKD or Covid-19 Assessment Centre, identification card or passport, as well as a RM100 cash deposit, which is refundable,” he said.
After eight weeks in operations, the Travelodge has served 629 patients with 190 volunteers, of which 83 are medical and 107 non-medical, working selflessly to cater to the patients.
“This is the first quarantine centre in the country that is fully run by an NGO. We are only successful because of our volunteers and donors,” he said.
Cheong added that he was touched by these patients who expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the volunteers.
“A lot of them were happy and thankful throughout their stay. Some even came with their children as we also have a psychosocial team to talk to kids, give out toys and organise activities for them.
“We received a lot of messages expressing their heartfelt thanks after they completed the duration of the quarantine.
“One patient even bought 30 cups of bubble tea for the volunteers. The gesture touched all of us because this is something not a B40 family can really afford,” he said.
Besides providing quarantine accommodation for Covid-19 patients, CREST also delivered food baskets to families in need and medical devices such as pulse oximeters and oxygen concentrators to eligible patients undergoing home quarantine.
Between January and August this year, the non-profit humanitarian organisation has delivered 176 units of oxygen concentrators to 13 public hospitals.
Despite successfully running two private quarantine centres, Cheong hoped that there would no longer be a necessity for such centres in the country.
“We would really like to see the number of Covid-19 cases go down.
“For this to happen, the whole nation must come together and take a serious view of the situation.
“The people should go for their vaccination and follow all the SOP strictly.
“The disease won’t go away just yet but we will recover gradually,” said Cheong.
On being one of the two winners for this year’s Gamuda Inspiration Award by Yayasan Gamuda, which comes with an extra grant to support their work, Cheong said it not only meant a lot to CREST but also attributed the recognition to all those who have supported them over the past two decades.
For their noble efforts, CREST is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2021, an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes.