Muted Hari Raya Haji in Malaysia as Covid-19 cases remain stubbornly high

Malaysian Muslims tying up a cow ahead of its slaughter for Hari Raya Haji on July 20, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Hari Raya Haji was a muted affair in Malaysia as new Covid-19 infection numbers remained where they had been for the past week, above the five-figure mark.

House visits, inter-state and inter-district travel were banned for the festival this year, with only animal sacrificial rites and prayers allowed at mosques under strict public health protocols.

This was in sharp contrast to Hari Raya Haji celebrations last year which saw Malaysians being allowed to return to their home towns after the country seemed to have reined in Covid-19.

Front-line health workers at Covid-19 quarantine and treatment centres were reported to have tried to keep up the spirits of Covid-19 patients on Tuesday (July 20).

"It is is very upsetting not to be with your family during Raya celebration, that is why we provide Raya delicacies to patients to cheer them up," Engku Mohd Nazri Engku Mansor, a medical assistant supervisor at a Covid-19 treatment centre in Selangor, was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

There were few reports of rule breaches during the day except for an incident in Penang where 200 people congregated outside a small mosque after it was filled to capacity under Covid-19 restrictions.

Police said that they were looking for those who flouted the rules at the gathering, including some foreigners.

Animal slaughter, a ritual conducted during Hari Raya Haji, was allowed in selected mosques according to procedures set by the Islamic bodies in individual Malaysian states.

Private slaughter, communal cooking and feasts were prohibited. Traditionally, the sacrificial meat has been distributed to the needy. Only some states allowed house-to-house distribution of the meat this year.

Both Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Haji celebrations this year have been affected by tighter restrictions after Covid-19 cases in the country surged towards the end of the Ramadan fasting month, prompting a nationwide lockdown one week before the Aidilfitri celebrations in May.

In contrast, Malaysia emerged from a strict two-month lockdown for Aidilfitri last year, allowing limited house visits as a result. By July 2020, when the country achieved zero local transmissions for the first and only time, inter-state travel was possible for those celebrating Hari Raya Haji.

On Tuesday, officials reported 12,366 new infections, a jump from the 10,972 recorded the day before.

As at Monday, the country had more than 128,000 active Covid-19 patients, continuing to stretch resources at hospitals.

The daily number of deaths from Covid-19 has also persisted in the three-figure range for the past week, reaching an all-time high of 153 on Sunday (July 18).

During a special address on Monday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that complying with health protocols was a form of "great jihad" (sacrifice) for Malaysia's 20 million Muslims.

The country is now relying on its ramped up vaccination drive - described by as one of the fastest in the world - to contain the pandemic.

Figures showed 424,936 doses were administered on Monday. Nearly a third, or 30.9 per cent, of Malaysians have received at least one dose, and 14.3 per cent are fully vaccinated.

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