KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia’s medical experts are against the government allowing the popular Ramadan bazaars to be held this year, fearing a spike in new coronavirus cases, even as officials seem torn over the issue.
The annual bazaars feature makeshift stalls selling freshly cooked food that are set up on roads and open-air carparks all over the country, packed with hungry Muslims looking to break their day-long fast.
The Muslim fasting month starts on April 23 this year, nine days after the last day of Malaysia’s movement control order on April 14.
The states of Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Terengganu and Selangor have banned the bazaars this year.
Singapore, too, has announced that its Ramadan bazaars – usually held in Geylang Serai and in the void decks of Housing Board blocks in many places – will not be held this year.
Malaysia yesterday announced 142 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 2,908 – the highest in South-east Asia. It also recorded two more deaths, reaching a total of 45.
The federal Malaysian government seems to be torn over the bazaars, which are popular among the Malay-Muslim majority. Also, tens of thousands of traders across the country’s 13 states and three Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan) depend on the makeshift stalls to make big bucks for one month.
Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa yesterday indicated that the bazaars might be modified, and the human traffic managed, to prevent congestion.
“We have to do away with the old ways of large crowds in compact spaces,” he said, as quoted in The Star newspaper. “For example, the local authorities can look into reducing the number of bazaars and designate special areas as bazaar locations. Traders can pre-pack food to ensure there is less human contact.”
The Health Ministry’s director-general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, said proper crowd-control measures would be required if the bazaars were to proceed.
But the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia (AMM) said it strongly opposes the holding of the bazaars this year.
“AMM strongly disagrees with any plan to hold Ramadan bazaars this year, given the ongoing threat of Covid-19,” said Professor Rosmawati Mohamed in a statement yesterday that was signed by all 11 AMM colleges, as cited by The Star.
The academy is a registered body representing all medical specialists in Malaysia, with 11 colleges focusing on various medical specialities.
“Close contact will inevitably occur in parking areas, en-route and between customers and vendors,” Prof Rosmawati said. “The premature easing of social distancing may potentially lead to a third wave of infections.”