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We are pre-publishing features on Covid-19 slated for our July 2020 issue.
MILENNIALS ARE FINDING themselves under unusual circumstances these days, as they navigate the indelible changes that Covid-19 has introduced into their lives. For some, this entails getting accustomed to new working or studying conditions; for others, it is about reassessing and learning to maintain relationships.
Penang Monthly speaks to four millennials to understand how their lives have been impacted by the Movement Control Order (MCO), as well as their takeaways from the pandemic.
Man on a Mission
“There’s something about being able to witness
your friends’ facial expressions when they
are expressing themselves; the interaction
feels raw, more authentic. You gauge their
intentions better. I miss that.”
For Shamesh Baskaran, the decision to join the Covid-19 medical team at the Penang General Hospital was an easy one. “Before the outbreak was declared a pandemic, the hospital was already recruiting medical officers from various specialties for the team,” he explains. “Most of my colleagues from my department have their own families. Some have just delivered their babies, some are breastfeeding, some are pregnant. I, on the other hand, am still single so I decided to volunteer.”
As part of the team, Shamesh is in charge of managing and observing Covid-19 patients in the ward. Along with four colleagues from his department, he underwent special training for dealing with the outbreak, specifically the general treatment for Covid-19 patients, as well as how to put on and remove the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Given their unfamiliarity with the situation, they were placed under the supervision of the Infectious Disease Team, from whom they received constant output and consultation to aid management.
“Removing the PPE after our shift is especially tedious. There is zero room for error,” he says, adding that the process usually takes up to 15 minutes. “We have to prevent any cross-contamination to ourselves and our surroundings.” For added measure, Shamesh stays in the ward during his shift and actively limits contact with the outside world. After work, he heads straight back home to recuperate.
Hand sanitisers produced by students from the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at USM.
Arguably, the biggest sacrifice Shamesh has had to make was having to temporarily move out from his family home, a decision he made prior to the commencement of the MCO. He had initially opted to practise self-isolation at home, but even that − along with wearing PPE at work − could not assuage his concerns.
“I have an aging father with a high risk of contracting Covid-19; I spent many sleepless nights worrying about the possibility of spreading the virus to my parents.” Thankfully, his friend had a spare room in Tanjung Bungah, which he has been renting since April.
Shamesh concedes that working as a frontline medical officer has inevitably resulted in substantial stress, but he also understands that isolated Covid-19 patients are in a more vulnerable state. He tries to uplift their mood by engaging in small, light-hearted talks; and during his downtime, Shamesh practises yoga and meditation to help de-stress after a long shift in the ward.
Spreading the Love
The start of the MCO presented an opportunity for Lim Ting Wei to give back to society. As the Covid-19 outbreak began to gain traction, he became aware of the shortages and subsequent price hikes of hand sanitisers and face masks in the market. A second-year pharmaceutical student at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), he decided to jump onboard a project initiated by his lecturer in a bid to manage the shortage.
“As members of the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, we know how important hand sanitisers are to protect oneself during the pandemic, as well as the ingredients required to formulate them,” says Ting Wei. Led by the lecturer, the research team began mass production of the sanitising gel a few days prior to the MCO. Lim assisted with the packaging. “While our hand sanitisers are not subjected to stringent quality control, we are confident that the 70% alcohol content is sufficient for disinfection purposes.”
Students staying in the hostels, cafeteria operators and security officers on duty at USM were also provided bottles of hand sanitisers.
On the first day of the MCO, Ting Wei, along with his lecturer and several course mates, distributed bottles of hand sanitisers to 12 charity homes, including several old folks’ homes and orphanages in the state. They are top priority, given the elderlies’ weaker immune systems and increased vulnerability to the virus. Students staying in the hostels, cafeteria operators and security officers on duty at USM were also provided bottles of hand sanitisers. “While we were not able to produce more due to a shortage of ingredients and the imposition of the MCO, I am glad we were able to play our part in fighting Covid-19. It was a memorable start to the quarantine order.”
As universities have begun adopting e-learning to replace physical classes during the MCO, Ting Wei notes that the switch has made numerous changes to his university lessons. He for one enjoys having time flexibility as opposed to following a rigid schedule, as well as being able to easily revise learning materials for greater comprehension. Though his workload has largely increased, his lecturers have been understanding of the limitations of online learning, and have allowed for extensions for assignments as well as making recordings of their lectures accessible via online platforms.
The one thing Ting Wei misses most, however, is being able to interact with his course mates in person. “I feel for my final year seniors − this pandemic has not only robbed them of their convocation, but more distressingly, their opportunity to create lasting memories with friends on campus. Knowing that, I find myself cherishing my course mates even more. Once we are able to return to campus, I won’t be taking them for granted.”
Socialising in Solitude
Millennials are social creatures, but the MCO has challenged them to be creative in how they go about filling their “social quota”. Nicholas Ma is used to hanging out with his friends during his spare time. However, with the MCO in place, he now connects with them on social media.
In addition to using popular apps like WhatsApp for instant communication, he has also started utilising video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Webex to stay in touch with friends and colleagues.
Ting Wei (far right) distributing bottles of hand sanitisers with his course mates.
“Just recently, my colleagues and I − all 17 of us − were on Zoom for a few hours, playing games and catching up with each other,” he says. “While it’s great to be able to go out and socialise, it isn’t crucial to my emotional wellbeing. The MCO hasn’t adversely impacted me in that regard, thanks to technology.”
This resourcefulness in socialising extends to his work, too. As a management trainee in a bank, Nicholas uses these communication platforms while working from home during the quarantine order. “Personally, I feel more productive at home than when I’m working at the office, where socialising with colleagues as well as frequent face-to-face meetings often delay my work progress.”
Whenever he feels tired from a long conference call, Nicholas finds that being able to take a 30-minute break helps rejuvenate and allows him to push through the rest of the work day. This, to him, is a perk that is not possible in an office setting.
Despite the convenience of telecommunication, he admits that this still pales in comparison with the quality interactions exclusive to in-person socialising. “There’s something about being able to witness your friends’ facial expressions when they are expressing themselves; the interaction feels raw, more authentic. You gauge their intentions better. I miss that.”
Natasha Ang identifies as an extrovert. Oddly enough, her methods of coping with staying at home have been largely introverted in nature. As a Master’s student in counselling, there was plenty to keep her busy, or so she thought. But procrastination slowly crept in, undetected.
Watching her friends being productive at home caused Natasha bouts of anxiety, but it also finally spurred her into action. To calm her nerves, she found journaling to be therapeutic; Natasha pens down her emotions and thoughts, and more importantly, reviews her daily activities and productivity levels. She has also been producing more makeup-related content for her social media platforms.
As with most people, Natasha finds talking with her friends helpful in coping with the stresses of Covid-19. In addition to the conventional means of instant messaging, phone and video calls, she also uses Discord as a streaming platform to play Jackbox games with close friends. They are fun, interactive and sufficient enough to satisfy her “social quota” given the circumstances.
Above all else, being in quarantine has taught her the importance of self-care. “I would always get so caught up with making plans to hang out with people that I’d often end up neglecting my ‘alone’ time. Even extroverts need some time for themselves too,” she says with a chuckle.