BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Mohammad Hisyamuddin Hj Hidop was initially hesitant to take the COVID-19 vaccine until he saw more people contracting the coronavirus. 

The 28-year-old security guard eventually mustered the courage to get his first vaccine dose, only to test positive for COVID-19 a week later after he was exposed to a colleague who caught the virus.

“I was one of those people who was stubborn about getting vaccinated. My family are fully vaccinated, except my brother and I,” he said in a video interview with the media on Wednesday.

The Belait resident said he wasn’t worried about the severity of the second wave at the outset.

“During the first wave, we were able to contain the spread even without the vaccines. So for me, I thought it would be okay as long as we keep our distance and take care of ourselves.

“The next thing I know, even those who have been fully vaccinated are also getting infected. If those who are vaccinated are experiencing symptoms, what about us who are not vaccinated? So I gathered up my courage and got vaccinated,” he added.

He took his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on August 30 but received the bad news that he tested positive for the virus a week later.

“On September 6, my colleague tested positive. I went for a swab test at KB Hospital on September 6, and isolated at home.

“I received my result on September 8. Once I found out that I was positive, I felt reluctant to tell my parents. I don’t want them to worry. But it happened, so I accept it with an open heart,” he said. 

COVID-19 patient Mohammad Hisyamuddin Hj Hidop, 28, poses for a photo after his interview with the media via video call. Photo: Courtesy of Mohammad Hisyamuddin

Mohammad Hisyamuddin is undergoing his quarantine at a makeshift isolation facility at Royal Brunei Armed Forces’ Lumut Camp in Belait.

The Lumut camp is one of the isolation centres for patients who are stable, asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. 

Living in a nine-member household which included his elderly parents, siblings and two young children, Mohammad Hisyamuddin is the only family member who tested positive so far.

“They [family] are still waiting for their second swab. I don’t know what would happen to me if I didn’t get vaccinated, even if it’s only with the first dose,” he said.

MoH data showed that vaccines are 75.8 percent effective in preventing infections for those who are partially vaccinated.

A total of 75.6 percent (2,890 people) of positive COVID-19 cases in the current outbreak were unvaccinated, while 16 percent (611 people) of the cases received one vaccine dose.

Life under quarantine at Lumut Camp

While under quarantine, Mohammad Hisyamuddin’s day begins at 5am with a shower and performing subuh (dawn) prayers.

At 6am, he would line up with other patients for their daily check-up to monitor symptoms such as fever, chest pain and sore throat. Healthcare workers also perform a routine check at night. 

He would then take his breakfast by 7.30am before spending the rest of the day keeping himself entertained with other patients.

“We would talk to each other, some are my friends, while some are strangers and we talk about how we got COVID and what they are doing to keep themselves healthy,” he said.

COVID-19 patients at COVID Holding Area Lumut Camp (CHALK) on Sept 16, 2021. Photo: Courtesy of Mohammad Hisyamuddin

Mohammad Hisyamuddin said patients are required to observe social distancing, wear face masks and maintain good hygiene.

“I wear my face mask all the time, even when I’m sleeping. I changed my face mask every eight to 10 hours. We are given two masks a day here,” he said, adding that one should not be complacent and take their health for granted.

Being asymptomatic does not mean that everything will always be okay as things can take a turn for the worse, he added.

Mohammad Hisyamuddin said two individuals experienced shortness of breath and cough shortly after they were admitted to the Lumut Camp healthcare facility.

“One person from India complained of shortness of breath and vomiting, an ambulance came to take him to NIC [National Isolation Centre] soon after. His friends who are here updated us that he had to be intubated.  

“The other person is from Indonesia and he was here for only two to three days. His cough got worse, and kept us awake at night and I am not sure whether he was admitted to NIC or the Mahad isolation facility,” he continued.

Home quarantine

Mohammad Hisyamuddin underwent home quarantine for three days before receiving a call that he would be transferred to Lumut Camp on his fourth day.

Throughout the three days, there was limited interaction between him and his family.

“At home, they would leave food outside my door, knock on the door and then leave. I felt isolated but that is the only way to keep them safe. Here I can talk to people who are in the same situation as I am,” he said.

“The things that I brought with me are things that I usually packed for travel but of course, I packed mostly shorts and t-shirts and not any of my ‘nice’ clothes,” he said jokingly. 

Mohammad Hisyamuddin keeps in touch with his family through video calls and texts.

“They would ask me how I’m feeling, whether I’m eating well or not,” he said.

View from the COVID Holding Area at Lumut Camp (CHALK). Photo: Courtesy of Mohammad Hisyamuddin

‘There will still be discrimination after recovery from COVID’

Asked whether he is worried about being discriminated against as a COVID-19 patient,  Mohammad Hisyamuddin said, “It is possible that it can happen, so I have to face it. I just have to be prepared for it. What can I do? Even if we recover, there will still be discrimination”.

“I hope that will not be the case. So far, a lot of my family members, cousins and friends have reached out to me with words of encouragement.

Mohammad Hisyamuddin said he has been swamped with messages and phone calls since testing positive for the coronavirus.

“I am happy but at the same time overwhelmed, especially when they asked about how I got infected in the first place,” he added.