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Covid-19 rules eased in Malaysia to allow for CNY reunion dinners, house visits

KUALA LUMPUR - Health experts in Malaysia are not expecting a surge in Covid-19 cases with Chinese New Year (CNY) just around the corner and Hari Raya Aidilfitri in May because most adults are fully vaccinated.

House visits and family reunion dinners will be allowed during CNY this year, the National Unity Ministry said on Wednesday (Jan 13).

"No open houses can be held. Chinese New Year receptions can be held, but by invitation only," National Unity Minister Halimah Mohamed Sadique told a news conference. Open houses often involve a constant stream of visitors, including the public, while house visits are closed-door and for invited guests only.

Under movement curbs last year, reunion dinners were limited to 15 people within a 10km radius. This year, house visits will be allowed throughout CNY celebrations between January 31 and February 15, and there are no travel restrictions.

Datuk Halimah did not state the maximum number of attendees for reunion dinners, but said that immediate family members and close relatives were usually at such gatherings.

Celebrations on Chap Goh Meh, or the 15th day of CNY, will be allowed at non-Muslim houses of worship, and lion and dragon dances can be performed.

Malaysian Chinese Association president Wee Ka Siong said his party would have a closed-door reception instead of its usual open house.

A number of states are also taking precautions.

In Sarawak, reunion dinners are allowed for immediate family members, but open houses, house-to-house visits and lion dances are barred.

The Penang government is cancelling the Chief Minister's CNY open house for the second year running.

Professor Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, chairman of Malaysia's Covid-19 Epidemiological Analysis and Strategies Task Force, told The Straits Times that a spike in Covid-19 cases will depend largely on how well people follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) during events such as family gatherings and prayers.

"There will always be a risk of spread during Chinese New Year, but this time around compared with last year, most adults would have been vaccinated and hopefully, some adults would have had their booster jabs," said Prof Awang.

"Residents need to somehow make sure congestion does not happen when many guests arrive together, that ventilation is optimal, and guests are reminded to practise mask-wearing and physical distancing even though it involves family members and close friends."

Turning to Hari Raya Aidilfitri, he said a rapid roll-out of booster jabs to cover 80 per cent of the population by end-February was crucial to prepare for an Omicron-fuelled outbreak.

Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar, director of the Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre at Universiti Malaya, also does not expect a spike following the two festivals, largely because 98 per cent of adults - and 78.6 per cent of the population - are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

"Malaysians in general have adapted to the new norms of living with SOPs. Hence, I do not foresee major epidemic waves following the two major celebrations of Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. But it doesn't mean it will not happen," he told ST.

"Since most adults have already received two doses of the vaccine, most infections are mild to asymptomatic."

Architect Coe Seng, 40, is among some Malaysians who are being cautious about celebrating CNY.

She plans to have only a reunion dinner with her immediate family members. As a precautionary measure, since returning to the office on Jan 3, she has been carrying out weekly self-tests on her family members.

"I will not allow visitors to my house. I just want to protect my family and others. I miss my friends and relatives, but we need to be socially responsible," she told ST.

The Health Ministry said there were 3,229 new Covid-19 cases reported on Wednesday (Jan 19), with 98.8 per cent of those infected showing no or mild symptoms.

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