Coronavirus Asia

Travel ban lifted in Malaysia, but some staying put at home

Families limiting Christmas gatherings as infections continue to soar

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

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 since Dec 7, but Mr Euphraim, 33, remains very concerned over 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 which includes Kuala Lumpur - from mid-October till early this month.

Christmas will be the first major religious festival not to be subjected to travel curbs since the government imposed the movement control order 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 also under partial lockdown during Deepavali last month.

Mr Euphraim lives in Puchong, a large suburb in the state of Selangor. He usually travels with his family - which now includes an infant daughter - to Taiping to celebrate both Deepavali and Christmas, but has opted not to do so this year due to the high number of infections.

He said: "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."

Mr Euphraim added that he would also not be having visitors in his house.

Malaysia is in the midst of a third wave of infection which began in late September, sparked by the Sabah state legislative elections.

Many 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 Ms Evelyn Baskaradas, an IT professional, from travelling 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."

In the two weeks since the travel curbs were lifted, Malaysia has recorded a daily tally of over 2,000 cases three times, including on Monday and Tuesday.

The country has registered a thousand cases for all but one day since Dec 7.

Yesterday, 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.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2020, with the headline Travel ban lifted in Malaysia, but some staying put at home. Subscribe