KUALA LUMPUR - Ethnic Indians in Malaysia will celebrate Deepavali on Thursday (Nov 4) with a sense of normality after a year of intermittent lockdowns because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than two million Malaysian Indians will mark the Festival of Lights, the first major celebration for any ethnic group in the multicultural country since domestic travel restrictions were lifted and other measures eased last month to resuscitate the economy.
Ms Rathimaithily Silvanathan said that Deepavali preparations for this year have been similar to pre-pandemic days - including shopping and relatives returning to their home towns for the weekend.
The 32-year-old dentist has returned to her home town in Perak, some four hours by car from Selangor where she works.
"This year, it's more festive," Ms Rathimaithily told The Straits Times.
Similarly, Ms Ranjini Anndy, 34, a lawyer based in Kuala Lumpur, has returned to her home town in Perak after eight months away from her immediate family.
But her family has opted not to host any open house due to prevailing concerns over Covid-19.
"It's going to be a quiet and calm Deepavali once again (similar to last year). But I'm happy to celebrate the Festival of Lights at home with my immediate family," she told ST.
Unlike last year, Ms Ranjini said, there was Deepavali shopping and house decorations.
Similarly, Mr Sriniwasrao Ramanaidu, 30, a banking executive, said it felt "almost like a normal Deepavali".
"But there are some of my friends whose businesses were affected by the lockdowns, so it's a muted celebration for them as their future is still uncertain," he added.
He is based in Kuala Lumpur and had travelled with his wife to Bagan Datoh, a coastal town in Perak, three hours away by car from the capital.
Last year, Malaysia imposed a partial lockdown across the country just before Deepavali. This was after a state election in Sabah in late September caused a surge in Covid-19 cases throughout the country, undoing its early success in managing the pandemic. Interstate travel was then banned.
The Covid-19 wave that ensued from the state polls never really abated, rising exponentially instead and turned more deadly this year, fuelled by the Delta variant.
Malaysia spent a large part of this year with much of its economy shut down. It was under a full lockdown from May until August, but this did little to curb infections.
The country has opted to prepare Malaysians to live with the fact that Covid-19 will be endemic. High vaccination rates have finally led to signs that the number of cases will fall further.
Malaysia reported 5,291 cases on Wednesday, less than a quarter of the record high of 24,599 cases recorded on Aug 26.
Deaths have also dwindled, with 70 fatalities recorded on Tuesday, down from 592 reported on Sept 11.
Malaysia has fully vaccinated 75.2 per cent of its population, and 95.7 per cent of adults.
Most restrictions have been lifted on those fully vaccinated, and the interstate travel ban - which had been in place since mid-January - was lifted on Oct 11, allowing people to travel freely, providing a boost to the local tourism sector.