Malaysia Bans Ramadan Bazaars to Contain COVID-19 Outbreak

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
200413-MY-covid-ramadan-620.jpg Customers watch as a seller prepares a local dish during a Ramadan bazaar in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia, May 27, 2017.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

The Malaysian prime minister on Monday banned Ramadan bazaars nationwide amid an extended movement control order (MCO) that runs through April 28 in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government also reversed an earlier decision to allow barbershops, beauty salons and optometrists to open. In a live telecast on Monday, Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the decisions were made by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

“The government has listened to the views of the people. The government also sought the advice of the experts and non-governmental organizations on the matter,” he said. “As such, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has decided that hair salons, beauty salons and optical shops in the whole country are not allowed to operate during the MCO period.”

“The same goes for Ramadan bazaars. The PM’s decision is that all forms of bazaars are not allowed in the whole country during the MCO,” said Ismail, referring to Malaysia’s partial lockdown.

The government instituted strict measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, starting with the MCO announced on March 18.

Extended for a second time last week, the MCO ordered government offices, private companies, factories, schools and non-essential services to close, allowing only essential services to continue. In addition, it ordered places of worship closed and did not allow for mass gatherings.

The blanket ban came after weeks of confusion over whether the bazaars would be allowed to open from the beginning of the Muslim holy month of fasting, which is expected to go from April 24 to May 23 in Malaysia.

On Friday, Muhyiddin hinted at the move by announcing that Muslims would have to make changes in welcoming the fasting month by not having Ramadan bazaars, special tarawih prayers at mosques and mass break fasts after the prayers.

“Ramadan is coming. We cannot go to the Ramadan bazaar to buy the food to break our fast, cannot go to the mosque to perform tarawih. So do it at home with the family,” he said at the time.

He also hinted that those who live and work away from their families would not be able to travel to their hometowns to celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the end of the fasting.

“Even though it is hard for us to imagine, this is the reality that we will be facing,” Muhyiddin said last week.

Malaysia recorded 134 new COVID-19 cases since Sunday, increasing the total to 4,817 and one new death, bringing the total to 77 since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Globally, more than 118,000 people have died and at least 1.9 million have been infected by COVID-19, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

States already banned bazaars

Seven Malaysian states – Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Terengganu, Sarawak, Penang, Malacca and Kedah – already announced their own bans ahead of the federal government decision.

Negeri Sembilan Chief Minister Aminuddin Harun – the first state to call off the bazaars – said public safety was more important than commerce.

“Traders should be more creative. We can’t allow them to do business in the open air because we refuse to take risks. I hope everyone can be patient for now,” he told reporters in Seremban.

In a Facebook posting on Monday, Federal Territory Minister Annuar Musa also announced the bazaar ban.

“After discussing with stakeholders, we unanimously agreed that this year there will be no Ramadan bazaars at all and yesterday (Sunday) a group of 100 traders and I agreed that whatever payments made will be carried forward to next year,” he said.

“So next year you can trade without having to pay anything. Hopefully there won’t be problems next year.”

While announcing the ban, Annuar said he would host a meeting to discuss new concepts for the bazaars that most years attract thousands of people to hundreds of stands.

“So this Thursday, City Hall will table a ministerial-level committee meeting. I have presented this previously in a cabinet meeting – the concept but not in detail,” he said.

Among the concepts to be discussed include whether a bazaar could be set up as a drive-through, and if so, what would be the layout and how many people would be allowed inside.

A different concept calls for a pack-and-pick operation allowing customers to order goods and pick them up at specified locations. Another discussion is to focus on food deliveries to customers.


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