When registration for the AstraZeneca vaccine was opened to the general public this week, many were already on standby with the official vaccination website open on multiple devices ahead of the race to book a slot for the jab under the government’s opt-in programme.
A good number were left disappointed as glitches and technological problems prevented them from securing a spot on the list.
But in rural Sarawak, where internet coverage is often patchy, the dismay was especially palpable.
Netty Kumari and her husband Abang Kiprawi Abang Abdul Latip were among those who had waited for the AstraZeneca registration to open.
Sitting in their small home in Pusa, a rural district in Betong, they, like hundreds of thousands of others across the country, tried refreshing the page multiple times.
They were also worried about the internet connection which is chronically unstable in their area.
“I opened the website at noon so that I could complete the registration quickly,” Netty said.
“But when I clicked the ‘state’ button, nothing loaded. I did not receive any message after completing the registration. And when I tried again, the registration was already closed.”
“I don’t feel safe now because the rollout of the vaccines is too slow, especially in places like here, in the rural areas.”
In any case, getting to the vaccination centres would have been difficult as the AstraZeneca jab is only being administered at two centres in the state, one in Kuching and the other in Miri.
To reach the one in Kuching, they would have had to drive five hours, making it a 10-hour round trip – a journey they were more than willing to make.
“We are willing to go through all the procedures for the sake of our health and safety,” Netty told MalaysiaNow.
“I don’t feel safe now because the rollout of the vaccines is too slow, especially in places like here, in the rural areas,” the 57-year-old added.
In Sarawak, where cases have been on the rise, even the young are feeling more and more worried. Vaccination provides a ray of hope but other complications mean getting jabbed is easier said than done.
Aurelia Lawrence, 24, lives in the coastal town of Mukah. While vaccination is free, she would have to travel to either Miri or Kuching and both are a far hop.
The quickest way to get there would be to fly. By plane, the trip would take 30 to 45 minutes.
But while flying is the quickest way, it is also the most expensive. The trip from Mukah to Miri or Kuching could cost up to RM200 and would only be feasible if she has a little extra saved up.
It’s much more economical to travel by bus but this means a gruelling six- to eight-hour trip.
“The cost is much cheaper but the long journey is very tiring because of the bumpy road,” Aurelia told MalaysiaNow.
The road itself is also under construction due to the Pan Borneo Highway project.
Sarawak has recorded a total of 44,758 Covid-19 cases so far and 97 deaths.
Although it remained under conditional movement control order while the rest of the country was placed under the stricter movement control order, the state government announced on Thursday that it too would come under full lockdown given the recent spike in cases.
In the rural areas, concern is on the rise as well.
“It worries me to see the current situation. It’s getting worse,” Netty said.