Malaysians shun travel over Christmas period despite no ban as Covid-19 cases continue to soar

Malaysia is currently in the midst of a third wave of infections which began in late September.
Malaysia is currently in the midst of a third wave of infections which began in late September.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Every Christmas, Mr Euphraim Yuvaraj travels to visit his grandmother and other relatives in Taiping, Perak, some 250km north of Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

He will not be making the three-hour journey this year, even though travel curbs across most of Peninsular Malaysia were lifted in time for Christmas celebrations.

Interstate and inter-district travel has been allowed in much of the country from Dec 7 but Mr Euphraim, 33, remains very concerned with the Covid-19 situation.

The pandemic has shown no signs of abating in Malaysia despite the partial lockdown imposed on much of Klang Valley - the country's biggest urban region including Kuala Lumpur - from mid-October till early December.

Christmas will be the first major religious festival to be not subjected to travel curbs since the government imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO) in response to the pandemic in mid-March.

The country, where Muslims form the majority of the population, was still in the grip of a relatively strict lockdown during Hari Raya Aidilfitri in May. Much of Klang Valley was under partial lockdown during the Hindu festival, Deepavali, in November.

Mr Euphraim usually travels with his family - which now includes an infant daughter - to celebrate both Deepavali and Christmas in Taiping, but he has opted not to do so this year because of the high case load for Covid-19.

"We see cases are breaching 2,000 every day, and I do not want to risk it, having a young daughter. We are staying back here and celebrating with just the immediate family," he said, adding that he would also not be having visitors to his house in Puchong, a large suburb in the state of Selangor.

Malaysia is currently in the midst of a third wave of infections which began in late September, sparked by the Sabah state legislative elections. Many of those who travelled to the east Malaysian state to campaign or vote returned to the peninsula and spread the virus. Since then the country has consistently recorded daily cases in the thousands and the numbers have shown no signs of abating.

Similar concerns have also discouraged IT executive Evelyn Baskaradas from traveling anywhere to celebrate Christmas. She said she has travelled interstate frequently in the past during the Christmas holidays.

"We will have a limited and informal family group this year, as everyone is similarly cautious. We won't be having anyone over," said Ms Evelyn.

In the two weeks since travel curbs were lifted, Malaysia has recorded a daily tally of over 2,000 cases three times, including on Monday (Dec 21) and Tuesday. The country has registered a thousand cases for all but one day since Dec 7. On Wednesday, 1,348 new cases were registered, bringing the number of active cases to 18,279 - an all-time high.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the government was well on the way to acquiring vaccines for at least 83 per cent of the population. The first batch is expected to arrive in February and Tan Sri Muhyiddin has said he will be among the first to be vaccinated to convince the people that the vaccine obtained is safe and effective.