Malaysia revises Covid-19 rules to allow more to gather for CNY reunion dinner

There was an uproar after government announced that only those living under the same roof could be present for the reunion dinner and prayers. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government on Sunday (Feb 7) revised its Chinese New Year health protocols to allow up to 15 people to attend the reunion dinner, following a barrage of criticism from Chinese groups and politicians.

The National Unity Ministry revealed new standard operating procedures just days ahead of the festivities. The previous SOPs restricted reunion dinners to only members of the same household.

Malaysia is currently under movement controls that limit travel and large gatherings as it tackles rising coronavirus infections that have strained its healthcare system.

The new SOPs allow up to 15 family members to gather for a reunion dinner, but they must live within a 10km radius of the dinner venue.

The Ministry also said in its statement that Chinese New Year prayers are now allowed at temples on Feb 11, 12 and 19, with a maximum of 30 individuals able to be present at any given time.

"Unity Ministry officials have been appointed as supervising officers under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and will monitor the compliance of the SOPs," the ministry said.

Last Thursday, Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said reunion dinners were only allowed among "members of the same household" and that no visitations were allowed for Chinese New Year. Prayers at temples were forbidden, and only temple committee members could be on temple premises.

The rules, which coincided with the government saying it would reopen hair salons and night markets despite extending the nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) for another two weeks, were roundly criticised.

Malaysians mocked the restrictions against house gathering while night markets were allowed to open. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) party weighed in on the criticism, saying the restrictions appeared unduly harsh and should be reviewed.

Malaysia has been under the MCO, which bars inter-district and interstate travel, since Jan 13, as the country battles a worsening third wave of the pandemic.

Unlike last year's MCO, which was a near total lockdown, the country has allowed several sectors of the economy to stay open, such as the manufacturing, palm oil and construction sectors.

Malaysia's highest daily coronavirus tally- 5,278 cases- was recorded on Jan 30.

The country recorded 3,731 cases on Sunday with another 15 deaths. The country now has a total of 242,452 cases with 872 deaths. It currently has 51,241 active cases.

Malaysia is also under a state of emergency from Jan 11 until Aug 1 to battle the pandemic. Its first vaccines are due to arrive at the end of this month.

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