Malaysia's Covid-19 movement curbs affect weddings, exam plans

Ms Joy Ong and Mr Kelvin Looi tying the knot at the Penang Christian Centre in George Town. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA/GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's move to expand its movement curbs to nine states on Monday (Nov 9) due to a spike in coronavirus cases has caught many by surprise and upended plans of people preparing for weddings, birthdays and sitting public examinations.

For Ms Joy Ong, the imposition of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) in Penang hastened her wedding by two weeks, with the determined bride rearranging her plans, all within 18 hours.

Ms Ong, 27, said her wedding registration was supposed to be on Nov 21, with a lunch scheduled after the ceremony, followed by a wedding dinner on Nov 29.

"Because of the CMCO, we brought the ceremony forward and tried our luck with our church, photographer, make-up artist, and our wedding decor team. I made many phone calls and we started the arrangements after 10pm Saturday, and I am grateful everything fell into place.

"The only setback was that the restaurant that we had wanted to hold the lunch was booked for another wedding dinner. So, we found another restaurant, and everything is now good to go," she said when met at her wedding at the Penang Christian Centre on Sunday.

Ms Ong, a design engineer, said she initially thought of postponing her wedding, but luckily the last minute change worked out.

Company executive J.X. Liew, 26, had to rush home to Ipoh in the state of Perak Saturday night to celebrate her father's birthday.

"I work in Penang and my parents were supposed to visit me this weekend to celebrate my father's birthday. "But with the CMCO, I rushed home before interstate travel is banned to spend time with them," said Ms Liew, who said it felt like deja vu because she had no chance to see her parents earlier this year.

"The first lockdown was overwhelming, but at least we have technology to keep in touch. I do miss them but it is still manageable as I have good friends and colleagues here in Penang.

"While my parents understand that the lockdown is necessary, they are worried about my safety," said Ms Liew, who is also ruing the fact that it would be nearly impossible for her to celebrate her birthday in Ipoh this month.

The CMCO has also caused the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination dates to be changed. The O-level equivalent exam is normally held in November and December.

But the Education ministry changed the exam dates to Jan 6 - Feb 9 next year due to the pandemic, before further postponing it to Feb 22.

The constant changes however have caused anxiety and stress, parent groups said, exacerbated by a year of erratic classes and online lessons.

Students taking the SPM will resume face-to-face lessons in schools starting Jan 20 to ensure they receive sufficient preparation before the exams, said education minister Mohd Radzi Md Jidin on Sunday (Nov 8).

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education chairman Mak Chee Kin said the ministry must be firm on the dates.

"As it is, these changes are causing anxiety and stress among students and parents. Make firm decisions on the dates and have a comprehensive plan B if the CMCO continues. Stop being firefighters.

"Come up with safety measures as well to ensure that the SPM exam is conducted smoothly and fairly," he added.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said the rescheduling "is a tragedy".

"Children are dropping out of schools and stress levels are rising with the postponement of the SPM again. How sure are we that it will not be rescheduled again?

"Prolonging the problem isn't going to solve the issue; ensuring the implementation of the strict standard operating procedure will," she said.

The National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan said while it would like for matters to be certain regarding SPM exam dates, students' safety comes first.

"However, we hope the ministry will address issues raised by parents, students and teachers quicker and not take too long to respond," he added.

Students are feeling a mix of emotions.

SMK (P) Jalan Ipoh student Harishna Kajentharan, 17, described the postponement as "devastating" as it would affect her enrolment into college.

"A lot of my time is going to be wasted but I'm trying to stay optimistic and hope for the best during this Covid-19 pandemic," Ms Harishna said.

A Secondary Five student who wants to be known as Han from SMK (P) Methodist Ipoh, is annoyed that yet again, the exams have been postponed.

But it must be done, she admitted, considering the spike in cases.

"My Chinese New Year celebrations next year will be filled with modules and worksheets, so I feel sad thinking about that," she said.

Similarly, a student in Melaka who only wants to be known as Wong from SMK Munshi Abdullah, said the news was unexpected.

"I just have to stay strong and keep my momentum to study going in order to prepare for my SPM exam.

"I hope the date will not be postponed again as it will affect my momentum. I want to move on to the next phase of my life," said the 17-year-old.

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