KUALA LUMPUR: Street food vendor Ilyas Muhammad has been selling apam balik pancake at the annual Ramadan bazaar at Kelana Jaya, Selangor for almost every year since 1999.
The only exception was in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in physical bazaars being banned across the country.
However, bazaars have been allowed to operate in most parts of the country this year, and business owners like Ilyas have lauded the move.
“I’m grateful to be back this year, it’s a crucial source of income for me,” said Ilyas.
“Ramadan does not feel like Ramadan without the bazaar, and if we stay committed to adhering to the SOPs (standard operating procedures to prevent spread of COVID-19), I don’t see why we cannot continue,” added the 37-year-old.
It has been more than a week into the fasting month and there have been concerns that the Ramadan bazaars could exacerbate the COVID-19 situation.
Photos of huge crowds, with people standing in close proximity to one another, have gone viral on social media and these have sparked fears that the decision to allow bazaars could lead to a surge in cases.
The daily number of infections in Malaysia has recently hovered at more than 2,000 cases daily, more than the same period in 2020 when it was mostly in double-digits.
On Thursday (Apr 22), Malaysia recorded 2,875 new cases and 7 deaths, bringing the total infections to 384,688 and the death toll to 1,407.
Yet, bazaar vendors in the Klang Valley interviewed by CNA maintain that if visitors and business owners adhere to the SOPs, it would be safe for bazaars to continue for the rest of the fasting month.
PROTOCOLS ARE IN PLACE
Ilyas said: “I’m scared of getting infected, so whatever it is, we all have to take care and adhere to the SOPs.
“Everyone has to wear a mask, (visitors must) scan the QR code at each store they visit and sellers wear gloves when handling food. So far, there has been no issue and everyone has complied with the rules.”
When CNA visited the bazaar, visitors were seen queueing to get in as there was a quota limiting the number of people who could be there at any one time.
Before entering, each visitor had to scan a QR entry code via the MySejahtera application, measure temperature and obtain a number tag.
Although there were signs and marking tape directing the flow of human traffic, some people appeared to be standing close to one another and not really adhering to social distancing, especially when queueing at the more popular stalls.
Another stall vendor at the Kelana Jaya bazaar, Siti Aisyah Yap, said: "This year, our business has dipped by around 30 per cent. But I don’t think we would have survived another year not selling at the bazaar, so I’m thankful we are here.” The 60-year-old sells cooling desserts like dadih and air kathira.
“We are strict with the SOPs, we use an extra huge table to ensure we do not interact closely with any of our customers,” she added.
WARNING, TEMPORARY CLOSURE FOR NON-COMPLIANCE
For bazaars where health protocols are not followed, the federal government has warned that they will be asked to close.
Last week, Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa said in a statement that any of the 66 bazaars in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan will be shut if a COVID-19 outbreak happens due to lack of compliance to SOPs, including physical distancing.
The states of Kelantan and Sabah have banned Ramadan bazaars this year due to rising COVID-19 cases.
The Greenwood Ramadan bazaar, located in Gombak on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, was shut for four days from Wednesday due to “failure” to adhere to SOPs.
In a statement, director for the Selayang municipal council Mohamad Zin Masoad said that the bazaar will be reopened with tighter SOPs, including quotas for visitors, no entry for children below 12 years old as well as older peoples above the age of 65. There will also be designated lanes to regulate the movement of people.
“The Selayang Municipal Council would also like to remind visitors and vendors to not be lazy and careless in adhering to SOP to curb the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
In Kuala Lumpur’s famous Kampung Baru bazaar, the SOPs listed by the Selayang Municipal council have been implemented.
Despite this, social distancing has continued to be a problem. Closer to breaking fast time in the evening, hundreds of visitors were seen thronging the bazaar from the various entrances.
Vendor Muhammad Idris Yassin, who sells grilled chicken with mandhi rice, told CNA that close proximity between people is something inevitable at a Ramadan bazaar. However, he expressed commitment to ensure that such interaction is kept to the minimum.
“I hope they don’t close the bazaar just because of a perceived lack of social distancing, because this is our livelihood. A big portion of what I earn during the year is from this bazaar and I hope the government does not steal away our rice bowls,” said the 47-year-old.
“Maybe if there is a cluster or confirmed cases, I can then understand why they would shut us down. So far we’ve been okay I think,” he added.
Drink stall vendor at the Kampung Baru bazaar, Nurul Atiqah Khair, shared similar sentiments.
“It has been a difficult year for me, I lost my job in retail and have struggled to make a living,” said Nurul Atiqah.
“I hope this bazaar will be allowed to continue, at least it allows me to have a good Hari Raya with my family,” she added.