Covid-19 restrictions eased for CNY in Malaysia; authorities keeping an eye out for rule breakers

People at a Buddhist temple with Chinese New Year decorations in Jenjarom, Malaysia, on Jan 28, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysians who celebrate Chinese New Year can finally do so with eased restrictions since the Covid-19 pandemic, but the authorities will be carrying out checks to ensure compliance with health protocols.

Under the rules, open houses are banned but people can attend reunion dinners, dine out and enter places of worship.

Many restaurants are fully booked for such dinners owing to pent-up demand.

"We are fully booked for tonight. Each table can seat only six people instead of the usual 10 due to Covid-19 rules," a worker at Chuai Heng restaurant in Kuala Lumpur told The Straits Times.

Banker Anise Wan, 41, managed to get the last private room at a restaurant in Selangor last week for Feb 12, but she had to pay a deposit to secure the booking.

"Cases are high, but we can take some precautions to limit exposure (to the virus). I believe many still eat out, but also make sure that the reunion activities are within a safe zone. It's the first reunion after the prolonged lockdown," Ms Wan told ST.

Many people are also spending more this year. Event planner Choo Ben C., 43, said she spent around RM2,000 (S$649) this year on food and Chinese New Year goodies, double the amount she spent last year.

Only her husband and children will be celebrating the festival as she is still mourning the loss of her 82-year-old father who died of sepsis and pneumonia three months ago.

"I spent a bit more on buying food to cook at home for the reunion dinner this year. I won't stop my husband and kids from celebrating, after all, we need to be grateful that we still have families to meet and it's the festive season," she said.

Kindergarten teacher and mother-of-three Hazel Goh, 41, will be going back to her home town in Sibu, Sarawak, on Wednesday for the first time in two years.

"My youngest child doesn't even remember what grandma's house looks like, so this year, I am looking forward to a proper reunion. The kids are excited. I am glad I made the decision to go back."

But there are also those who have opted for more subdued celebrations, either because their incomes were affected by the pandemic or they prefer to remain cautious as a result of a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases blamed on the highly transmissible but less severe Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Housewife Shervin Cheong, 38, decided to try her hand at making nian gao, or rice cakes, for the first time, as well as prawn crackers from scratch.

"Despite the pandemic, I try my best to create a memorable CNY for my small family and kids. We don't have that much to spend, but we decorated the house, baked some cookies to give to friends and family," she told ST.

"My husband is the sole breadwinner now, so it affected us a lot. His income has to feed four of us, including the house and my car instalments, so we have to really plan our spending carefully. But I enjoy doing all those cooking and preparation for CNY because I think those are the things that are memorable and create the festive atmosphere."

Amid the festivities, the authorities will be deploying some 2,532 Covid-19 compliance teams nationwide to make sure that people comply with health regulations or standard operating procedures.

"The virus is still out there and remains dangerous. The government has relaxed some restrictions to enable interstate travel and the reunion dinner, so we hope that the public will respond by playing their part," Internal Security and Public Order Department director Comm Datuk Hazani Ghazali was quoted as saying by The Star daily.

Malaysia on Sunday recorded 4,915 new Covid-19 cases, the first time in three days that cases fell below the 5,000 mark.

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