Mohd Rezuan Othman would normally travel from Kuala Lumpur to his hometown in southern Malaysia to spend Eid al-Fitr with his family, but the country’s latest nationwide COVID-19 lockdown has scuppered his plans for the second year in a row.
Under measures announced on Monday, just days before Eid, he and millions of others are being forced to stay apart from loved ones during the annual celebration because of strict restrictions on travel.
“I haven’t gone back for Raya for nearly two years now and I haven’t seen my parents in all that time,” said the 40-year-old cook, using the Malay term for Eid.
Malaysia was among the earliest countries in the region to impose a strict lockdown last year to keep the epidemic contained. It suffered its worst economic slump in 2020 since the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s.
A surge in cases that started at the end of last year prompted the government to impose a state of emergency in January, and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday declared a month-long nationwide lockdown to deal with yet another spike.
Malaysia’s caseload went past 444,000 with 1,700 deaths as of Monday, the third highest infection rate in the region behind Indonesia and the Philippines.
Some, like Rusyan Sopian, think the travel restrictions make sense given health authorities have said the spike may be linked to the spread of more infectious variants.
“If it helps keep the virus at bay, that’s okay with me,” said the 38-year-old writer.
But beyond the disruption of social lives, the repeated lockdowns have become a threat to the livelihoods of Mohd Rezuan and many others in Malaysia.
The holy fasting month of Ramadan would normally have meant brisk business for restaurants and food bazaars preparing meals for millions of Muslims who break fast after sundown. About 60 percent of Malaysia’s population of 32 million are Muslim.
“I work in the food industry. One moment it’s open, one moment it’s closed,” said Mohd Rezuan, speaking during a break from his work at a restaurant in a normally busy suburb of Kuala Lumpur, now unnaturally quiet.
“One moment my salary is OK, and the next it is not. How am I going to survive?”