KUALA LUMPUR: Just a month ago, Siti Farahani Halim was feeling hopeful that she would be able to spend Hari Raya Aidilfitri with her family back in her village in the northern state of Perlis.
The 25-year-old who is based in Kuala Lumpur where she works as a corporate affairs executive, was buoyed by talk that the government could lift interstate travel restrictions for the festivities this week.
She has not seen her parents and two siblings since she started work in 2019, as COVID-19 resulted in travel restrictions over Hari Raya in 2020.
However, her hopes of being reunited with them were dashed over the last few days when the government announced that Hari Raya visiting, as well as both all interstate and inter-district travel would be banned until early June amid rising COVID-19 infections.
On Monday (May 10), the government announced another nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) from May 12 until Jun 7, in what Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin described as a "drastic move to prevent the country from slipping into a severe health catastrophe".
Under the MCO, all forms of social gatherings including weddings, house visits and banquets are prohibited.
The new measures come at a time when the Health Ministry is struggling with a high number of COVID-19 patients, with some hospitals and intensive care units reaching full capacity.
As of Monday (May 10), there were more than 444,000 cumulative cases nationally. The number of active cases stands at 37,396, with 434 patients warded in ICUs.
Even as she understood why the latest measures had to be put in place, Siti Farahani was still saddened.
“I’m devastated because I've not been able to balik kampung for so long. The initial plan was to go back to Perlis for (Hari) Raya, but when it became clear that there would be no interstate travel, I thought I could at least meet up with my brother and sister who are based in Kuala Lumpur too,” she said.
“But when they confirmed that inter-district travel would be cancelled too, it left us in a jam. We stay in different areas within Kuala Lumpur. So it’s sad and we have to celebrate in our respective houses alone.”
Many Malaysian Muslims like Siti Farahani are based in urban areas due to work, but they would typically set aside Hari Raya to visit their families in their hometowns.
But for the second Hari Raya Aidilfitri in a row, celebrations are set to be muted as Malaysia continues to grapple with the pandemic.
NO "FESTIVE VIBES" AGAIN THIS YEAR
For this year, yet again, Siti Farhani said she would video call her family in the morning, and later carry on with her day as usual.
She said: “I don’t have any excitement or festive vibes this year. I’m homesick and I miss celebrating in Perlis.
"As a family, we would eat ketupat with rendang, attend morning prayers, visit graves of loved ones and pose for pictures in front of the amazing landscape. I’m a kampung girl, and it’s a huge loss that I can’t experience this for the second year running.”
Lawyer DK Vivi Fazrenna Zaidun also echoed similar sentiments. The 26-year-old is unable to return to her hometown in Sabah and she will also be spending Hari Raya alone in Kuala Lumpur.
“Before 2020, I had never missed spending Hari Raya with my family. It is the most special day for me,” said Vivi.
“We would cook Hari Raya dishes together, like bakar lemang (sticky rice in grilled bamboo) and decorate the house. But now that I’ll be spending it alone, I don’t see the point of cooking something special as it would be wasting food,” she added.
Like in 2020, Vivi would still wear matching baju kurung colours with her family back home in Sabah, and pose for a picture when on a video call.
Similarly, executive Ammar Muhammad who is based in Kuala Lumpur, is also ruing the fact that he and his wife would not be able to visit his in-laws in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan.
The 36-year-old said that travelling back would have been a good break for the couple from work, and an opportunity to recharge.
“It’s a big issue for us because we work hard all year round, and the only time we get a good break is when we go back to the kampung for Raya. It's a chance to release some pressure from work, and meet old friends, family. Especially with COVID-19 this year, we badly needed it,” he said.
He said he will likely spend Hari Raya watching TV programmes on Netflix and scrolling through Twitter.
“There’s no mood at all,” said Ammar.
CASES OF PERCEIVED NON-COMPLIANCE WITH TRAVEL BAN
Some Malaysians have also expressed frustration over the seemingly uneven enforcement of interstate travel bans. This comes amid a perception that there might have been a different set of rules for celebrities and VIPs.
For example, celebrity Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor and her family were fined a total of RM60,000 (US$14,600) for violating COVID-19 restrictions during her Mar 27 wedding and a trip to Langkawi that took place soon after.
She later drew the attention of netizens again, after she posted a photo on social media of herself buying carpets in Nilai, Negri Sembilan. Neelofa is based in Kuala Lumpur.
Even before the latest curbs, the federal government had banned interstate travel across the country. Interstate travel with police permission was only allowed for business, medical and educational purposes from Mondays to Thursdays.
Netizens also noticed that singer Siti Nurhaliza’s tahnik ceremony for her newborn was attended by well-known religious preacher Azhar Idrus, who doesn’t reside in the same state.
Siti Nurhaliza later clarified that the preacher agreed to attend the ceremony because he was in town for work and did not violate the travel ban.
Commenting on these developments, Siti Farahani said: “Seeing these celebrities not complying with restrictions is frustrating. Malaysians are unable to visit their loved ones, some of whom are sick or dying, but there are VIPs breaking laws for their leisure. It’s unfair.”
Ammar added: “If we have some irresponsible people not complying with SOPs, we will be having MCO constantly, and may not be able to go back for Hari Raya until 2025.”
OPTIMISM FOR HARI RAYA 2022
Despite the muted celebrations this year, some are optimistic that the national COVID-19 vaccination programme will eventually result in herd immunity and successfully curb the spread of infections.
Vivi said: “I'm hopeful. I’ve signed up for the Astra Zeneca vaccine, so I am scheduled to get my first dose in June. Hopefully, after the second dose, I will be able to travel back to my home in Sabah with ease,”
Ammar was also encouraged that the vaccination programme has kicked off, and expressed hope that the government would achieve its target of inoculating 80 per cent of the population by October.
“For sure, I pray next year, there will no more MCO (and) no more state of emergency. Now the numbers are on the rise, but if the government can act quickly, we have a chance to balik kampung for Raya in 2022,” he added.