KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will step up enforcement ahead of Hari Raya Haji on Tuesday (July 20) to avoid a flare-up in Covid-19 clusters like those linked to Hari Raya Aidilfitri in May that sparked a surge in infections that now average over 10,000 cases daily.
With higher traffic seen on highways since last Friday, police have vowed stricter checks at roadblocks. They will also reject government exemption letters that normally allow individuals from selected sectors to cross state lines for work.
"To avoid irresponsible parties from abusing the permits, all roadblocks at state borders have been ordered not to accept them... for interstate travel," police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah said in a statement late on Saturday.
Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Sunday that "hundreds of thousands travelled interstate with various reasons, including using interstate letters meant for work" during Aidilfitri, which resulted in 36 Covid-19 clusters.
"There probably are also those who use their 'expertise' to evade police by travelling through plantation roads and so on, but you can't deceive Covid-19," he said, adding that 4,839 vehicles were turned back on Friday alone.
Sacrificial rites on Hari Raya Haji will be limited to places of worship and pre-approved sites, and traditional feasts after the rites are banned.
Congregational prayers will have to adhere to rules set by each state's religious authority. Celebrations and visits to homes will also be banned.
Such precaution is also seen in Indonesia where people have been urged not to travel to their home towns. In Singapore, the Muslim community has been reminded to abide by Covid-19 safety measures during the celebrations to keep community transmission numbers low and prevent mosques from being closed.
In Malaysia, the new rules came hours after Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's announcement on Saturday that the government will decide this week on the relaxation of restrictions for those fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, which has continued to set records in the number of patients infected and lives lost.
More than 14 million doses have been administered so far, with nearly 20 per cent of adults fully immunised as Malaysia's Covid-19 vaccination rate has accelerated to become one of the world's fastest.
The Premier said on Sunday that the government intends to administer even more jabs daily, from an average of more than 400,000 to half a million, so that all adults will be fully inoculated by the end of October.
"With the discovery of new Covid-19 variants that are more aggressive and the surge in positive cases, the vaccination programme target has been accelerated," he said, adding that 76.1 million doses have been procured.
Despite the number of infections dipping to 10,710 on Sunday, deaths rose to a new record of 153, bringing their respective totals to 916,561 and 7,019.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin has said that Malaysia will only fully exit its lockdown when daily cases average below 500 and 60 per cent of the 33 million population are inoculated.
With the Klang Valley accounting for the biggest share of infections, the government has embarked on Operation Surge Capacity (OSC), which aims to ensure that every adult in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor receives at least one dose by Aug 1.
However, Seremban MP Anthony Loke has called on Coordinating Minister for Immunisation Khairy Jamaluddin to expand the operation to neighbouring Negeri Sembilan, which has also seen a surge in cases, averaging more than 1,000 infections daily in the past week.
"As Rembau MP, which is within Negeri Sembilan, I am sure that he understands the situation here and feels the anxiety of the people he represents," the Democratic Action Party organising secretary said in a statement on Sunday.
The OSC allows walk-ins for seniors aged 60 and above, instead of having to pre-register and wait for appointments. Although there were concerns of overcrowding at vaccination centres, reports so far show that the process has been smooth.