Feature: Malaysians remain hopeful as COVID-19 pandemic puts damper on Eid al-Fitr

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 (Xinhua) — Malaysia’s Muslims marked a more somber Eid al-Fitr festival as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on into a second year, with many social traditions forced to be set aside amid surging cases.

Around the national capital Kuala Lumpur, streets, malls and markets that would usually teem with people celebrating the end of Ramadan and the start of Eid al-Fitr holidays were mostly vacant this year, with the government banning inter-district and inter-state travels, making the traditional exodus of “balik kampung” or people returning to hometowns impossible.

Among those who will be spending the holiday at home is Muhammad Naib Sarmat, who works as an e-hailing driver, traversing the streets which are fairly empty after the government implemented a month-long movement control order (MCO) nationwide after a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

While he lives with his immediate family, he has not been able to return to his hometown in the southern Johor state for a second year as travel restrictions were in place last year as well.

“It was the same last year and it is the same this year. Travel to the hometown is not allowed. But there is still a lot to be thankful for. At least there is work and my family is safe. Of course it would be better to celebrate like before,” he said.

“Hopefully with all the measures being taken, with the vaccination, we will see the end of MCO and this virus. I am prepared to face the same thing next year but I do not want to think of how it will be if we have to be like this after that,” he said.

Another resident of the capital, Mumtaz Ali said the coronavirus was a blow, not only to Muslims but also to their non-Muslim friends as well as Eid al-Fitr, which follows the fasting month Ramadan, with people usually being able to visit each other to enjoy food and company as part of the open house tradition.

The open house practice means that guests and even strangers can visit the homes of those celebrating the holiday, to wish them well and enjoy the feast prepared by their hosts with the aim of fostering closer intercommunal ties.

“I will remain here with my family and dissuade others from visiting,” he said. “In order to break the COVID-19 chain of infections, it is vital for all of us to follow the rules set by the authorities. We must act responsibly and be careful until the situation is under control.”

The Malaysian government declared its third nationwide MCO from May 12-June 7 after COVID-19 cases began to surge last month, with new records set for the number of patients requiring intensive care and assisted breathing in treatment. Health officials have warned that the public health system is overstretched.

In a televised speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin reminded Malaysians that the MCO and associated restrictions are necessary to avert a catastrophe, saying that not taking action would see new cases surge to 10,000 per day.

“If no firm and drastic action was taken, the country could plunge into a health catastrophe and face a national crisis,” he said.

“At that time, the nation’s entire healthcare system, which is currently in a critical stage, will be paralyzed like what has happened in other countries. People will die lying by the roadside as hospitals will no longer have the capability to take in any more patients,” said the prime minister.

There were over 40,100 active cases recorded in Malaysia on Wednesday, and 39 new deaths, the highest single day death toll since the pandemic hit the country, which has imposed a travel ban on India and other South Asian countries in efforts to stop the spread of new COVID-19 virus variants. Enditem

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