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Landing stories – and then some: A journalist’s bout with Covid-19

A journalist chasing stories on the Sabah polls tells of how his disregard for SOPs gave him more than he bargained for.

Fazreen Kamal
4 minute read
Journalist Azrul Affandi Sobry at his home in Kajang Perdana.
Journalist Azrul Affandi Sobry at his home in Kajang Perdana.

Good journalists are risk takers, going wherever their story takes them even if it means into danger.

But today, as Covid-19 rages through the world, danger takes on a new form in the shape of an invisible enemy that could strike anywhere, at any time.

For Azrul Affandi Sobry, a journalist based in Kuala Lumpur, it struck as he was on the line of duty covering the recent state election in Sabah.

He admits that it wasn’t entirely unexpected as the nature of the job entails jostling with others in order to land the story.

But he also confesses that he could have done more to prevent it from happening.

“From the first day I arrived in Sabah and started reporting until the day I returned to KL, I never followed the SOPs,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“There were hundreds of us there, and none of us did.”

In Malaysia alone, the virus has claimed more than 200 lives and infected over 24,000 people.

Azrul is candid about the source of his infection, and while he says he had little choice – “we have to get up close to the people in the story we’re covering” – he is also clear about where he believes the responsibility lies.

“The fault is all mine because I spent time working in crowded areas where everyone abandoned the SOPs in the rush to get their stories.

“Social distancing wasn’t practised by anyone I saw and we didn’t even wear face masks.”

He and other reporters spent time crowding into former Sabah chief minister Shafie Apdal’s home, from where they reported on the excitement of the election.

“I can’t blame the other people squeezed together in that house, only myself,” he added.

Once he had sent his final election story to his editors, he flew from Sabah back to KLIA on Sept 30.

“I spent time working in crowded areas where everyone abandoned the SOPs in the rush to get their stories.”

On arrival, all passengers were swab tested. Health workers attached a pink bracelet to his wrist, and he was ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. His swab came up negative, so he left the airport and went home in a cheerful mood, confident that everything would be fine.

But the next morning when he woke up, Azrul felt some ominous changes coming over him. He felt his first stirrings of unease.

As the day progressed he began to feel weak and cough continuously but he dared not leave the house to get treatment or medication because he was still wearing the pink bracelet.

He began to suspect the worst.

“On the third day after getting back from Sabah, I started to feel terrible with a horrible cough and bouts of dizziness so I called the Kajang hospital emergency department because now I was frightened and wanted to know what I should do.”

He encountered difficulties dealing with the hospital so he contacted health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and soon found himself in Sungai Buloh hospital where he was given emergency treatment, warded, and tested.

The next day his test results came back. They confirmed he was positive for Covid-19.

Healthcare professionals quarantined him there and then. He spent over a week moving between three different wards as beds became scarce in the grip of a new local wave.

On day 8, he still tested positive but was told he was no longer contagious and so would not spread the virus. He just needed time for his immune system to heal him.

Azrul Affandi Sobry now works from home after his recovery from Covid-19.

Due to the growing influx of Covid-19 cases in Klang Valley hospitals, patients were being allowed to return home after their 10th day if they did not exhibit severe symptoms.

“If the patients seemed healthy, they were allowed to go home. In fact, after a week in the hospital just about everyone in the isolation wards was actually fit; most of us were even able to run,” he said.

On day 8, he was discharged to allow room for the rush of new patients. He went home to recuperate.

Before his bout with the illness, Azrul was known to his Facebook followers as “cikgu Covid” or Covid teacher, as he often shared advice and tips on how to avoid getting infected.

Now he is able to advise his followers from first-hand experience.

His advice now is not so much how to avoid getting infected any more, as how to react to being around recovered Covid-19 victims.

“Paranoid people are always afraid of Covid-19 patients,” he said. “They see us like rabid dogs they shouldn’t go near. Even some of my friends are like that.

“I want people to try to remember that Covid is not the only dangerous infectious disease out there. All viruses can spread. Influenza is also a killer. But people now see Covid as the only dangerous thing you can catch. Recovering patients are often avoided by everyone and there’s absolutely no need for that.”