SINGAPORE: Several Malaysian states, including Kedah, Selangor, Terengganu and Melaka, have announced that Ramadan bazaars will be cancelled this year.
Johor Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has also urged bazaar organisers to cancel the events.
This comes just as Putrajaya said it is mulling over standard operating procedures (SOPs), such as safe distancing and crowd control, so that the bazaars could be allowed to operate during the fasting month.
On Wednesday (Apr 1), Kedah Chief Minister Mukhriz Mahathir said the decision was made during the state's executive council meeting, because the state government wants to avoid mass gatherings that can result in the spread of COVID-19.
"We will ask all local authorities that have taken deposits for bazaar sites rental or stalls to refund the payment," Mr Mukhriz added.
Separately, Selangor Chief Minister Amirudin Shari has said that online Ramadan bazaars are viable alternatives.
“I believe there will be online Ramadan bazaars as there are delivery services,” he was quoted as saying by local media.
In Terengganu, the state government said it will set up an online Ramadan bazaar platform to assist sellers who depend on it for their income.
The service centres of Terengganu’s 32 assemblymen will reportedly be appointed as administrators for the platform, and there will be no limit to the number of sellers.
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Meanwhile in Melaka, the state's historic city council (MBMB) announced that Ramadan bazaars were cancelled in a circular issued last Friday.
Melaka's mayor Mansor Sudin said this was to avoid any issues during these uncertain times.
He said MBMB had issued permits to the bazaar organisers in Klebang and Telok Mas but maintained that the bazaars would be cancelled.
However, Mr Mansor said the decision could be reversed if the state government felt that COVID-19 no longer poses a health threat.
"For the moment, we are taking a wait-and-see policy," he reportedly said.
Commenting on public concerns over Ramadan bazaars, Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Wednesday that the authorities are re-evaluating the methods to carry out the bazaars.
“We could look at e-bazaars or drive-through bazaars as a possibility. We are reviewing the standard operating procedures to see what would be best,” he said.
On Tuesday, Dr Noor Hisham had said that the Health Ministry would allow Ramadan bazaars to take place if the SOPs are followed.
RAMADAN BAZAARS CAN WAIT, SAYS JOHOR SULTAN
Although the Johor state government has not announced any decision on Ramadan bazaars, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has urged organisers not to hold the events.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the sultan said: “Every day, new cases are being detected. Now is not the time to hold any event involving mass gatherings.
"The complete effect of the movement control order must be achieved first. This must be our priority and concern. The Ramadan Bazaar can wait,” he added.
Ramadan is expected to start on Apr 23, about 10 days after the completion of the ongoing Movement Control Order (MCO).
The MCO was initially supposed to take place for two weeks from Mar 18 to Mar 31. It was later extended by another two weeks until Apr 14.
As per the order, Malaysians are not allowed to leave their homes unless necessary and only essential services are allowed to operate.
In his statement, the sultan urged Malaysians to be "patient, stay at home and avoid any contact with others until the health authorities have given the all clear sign".
“If we don’t follow and ignore the movement control order, the virus will spread and further strain the resources of our healthcare system, putting our healthcare workers and other frontliners at even greater risk. If we reach breaking point then we will all be helpless,” said the sultan.
He added: “The faster we all cooperate, the sooner we can return to normalcy ... Forget about politics, please … Let us work together to save our country from this crisis.”