PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The people must prepare to stay home longer with the prospect of phase four of the movement control order (MCO) looming, as the government prepares standard operating procedures (SOPs) to cater for Ramadan, say government sources.
Although there has yet to be an official announcement, the government's preparation for a Ramadan under MCO signals the possibility of a phase four.
The MCO, which began on March 18, is now in its third phase which will end on April 28.
As the first three phases were in two-week stages, phase four is likely to be another two weeks.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is expected to give a special Ramadan speech to the nation on Thursday (April 23) night to address the worries of Muslims fasting during the MCO.
Business sectors are already bracing themselves for an extended MCO and are making arrangements to cushion the impact. Business owners say they intend to continue operating at below 50 per cent of their capacity.
Senior Minister Ismail Sabri said the government was not only looking at allowing students who had been stuck at hostels in higher learning institutions due to the MCO to go back to their hometowns, but it was also discussing the possibility of allowing those who went back to their hometowns during the first few days of the MCO to return to the towns and cities.
For the early stages, they can apply to the police through the online application Gerak Malaysia, a collaboration between the police and Communications and Multimedia Ministry, from April 25 onwards," he said.
But he cautioned that the possibility of letting people come back to the cities from their hometowns would only be decided on once the authorities had the complete data.
He also said markets will be allowed to operate from 6am to 2pm in the month of Ramadan throughout the MCO period, an additional two hours compared to 6am to noon previously.
The government had also decided to allow public transport services to start operating an hour earlier, from 4pm to 10pm, compared to 5pm to 10pm previously, national news agency Bernama reported.
Datuk Seri Ismail said the changes in operating hours is to assist Muslims to prepare to break fast during Ramadan.
Religious authorities, under the purview of Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Al-Bakri, are also formulating fatwa (a formal ruling on a point of Islamic law) to ensure that Muslims are not in doubt about fasting during the MCO.
"The National Fatwa Council met on April 21 and we discussed issues that needed to be decided regarding fasting during MCO amid a pandemic.
"We decided that a swab test for Covid-19 does not invalidate a patient's fast.
"We also discussed if front-liners could be exempted from fasting while on duty," said Datuk Seri Zulkifli in an interview, adding that all decisions were based on the advice of the Health Ministry.
He said those on the front lines who found it difficult to fast while on duty, be they medical or security personnel, had a right not to fast, but it must be replaced at another time.
"For Covid-19 patients on medication, he or she need not fast but must pay it back when he or she is well again.
"For suspected or positive cases where they do not have symptoms and do not have to take medication, including those being isolated at home or in quarantine stations, then if health permits, he or she should fast during Ramadan.
"This was debated among the clerics in Al-Azhar University and doctors were consulted," said Dr Zulkifli.
Some government agencies such as the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) have also launched soup kitchens and food banks to assist underprivileged groups during Ramadan.
The latest is the RM2.16 million (S$700,000) It'am Kitchen in selected mosques for pre-dawn and breaking of fast meals, which will then be delivered to deserving groups in accordance with the SOP of the authorities, said Jawi.
The announcement by Senior Minister Fadillah Yusof on Wednesday that most applications from construction companies to continue operations during the MCO had been rejected was yet another indication of a potential extension to the MCO.
"The government received 19,000 applications from companies in the construction industry to operate during the MCO. Of these, 1,856 were approved while 7,387 applications were not," he said.
Datuk Seri Fadillah added that smaller contractors could restart their work for house renovation, but they must apply for permission from the authorities.