Thursday, January 27, 2022

‘What should I do?’: Sarawak’s down-and-out clueless over vaccine drive

While the state is going all out to vaccinate as many as possible, those like Mohd Firuz Abu Bakar are unsure of how to enrol.

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Each morning, Mohd Firuz Abu Bakar gets up early, sometimes rising with the sun.

The earlier he wakes up, the more time he has to scavenge through rubbish bins in the Kuching city centre, looking for recyclable items to sell.

It’s not much but it’s all the 38-year-old has had to keep body and soul together since the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed this month.

Life wasn’t always like this for him. At one point, he was holding a steady job at a welding company in Kuala Lumpur.

But along with the job came workplace hazards, and eventually Firuz developed cataracts which left him visually impaired.

As time went by, he found himself alone and living on the streets a thousand kilometres away from where he once called home.

Now, he spends his days wandering through the Kuching city centre, looking for old newspapers and tin cans, hopeful of finding a few odd jobs on the side.

At night, he retreats to a makeshift shelter at the open air market building at Jalan Power. It’s not much, but it’s better than having to move around looking for a new spot, especially now that extra restrictions have been imposed as part of Covid-19 preventive measures.

He now knows to wear a face mask whenever he ventures out in public. But like thousands of other homeless people, this is about all he can do to ward off the virus.

The state government has been aggressively pushing its vaccination campaign but Firuz has little hope of booking a slot and even less knowledge of how to go about doing so.

“I don’t have a mobile phone,” he told MalaysiaNow at the five-foot-way of the transportation hub near the market.

“Am I eligible? Can I register without a mobile phone?”

Even if he can, other questions still plague his mind.

“Even if I register online, what address should I put? What should I do?”

In April, the Sarawak government said it was actively registering homeless people for the national immunisation programme as part of efforts to ensure that they too can get jabbed.

Sarawak Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Fatimah Abdullah said the state had their profiles on record and knew their usual spots.

But despite the state’s efforts, those like Firuz remain in the dark about what to do.

He has lived on the streets for four years now, but with the Covid-19 pandemic still hammering the economy and forcing restrictions on movements, he says his current hardships are the worst yet.

“This is the toughest,” he said, referring to the ongoing lockdown.

“Normally I can earn about RM50 a day selling tin cans for recycling. This is enough for me to buy food and a box of cigarettes.”

But now, with fewer and fewer people venturing out of their homes, he is reaching the end of his rope.

“I will be sleeping in hunger again tonight,” he said simply.

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