Malaysia to allow non-Muslim public worship to resume in June – dpa international


Worshipping inside of one of George Town’s many Chinese temples (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Muslim-majority Malaysia will allow minority faiths to reopen places of worship from June 10, a further relaxation of curbs imposed to stem the new coronavirus pandemic and one that has already been extended to Muslim ceremonies.

After a meeting with leaders of minority religions, Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday that attendance at such events will be limited to 30 people.

“There must also be body temperature checks, hand sanitizer preparation, and devotees are required to wear face masks,” Ismail said. Church weddings will not be allowed until July 31.

A total of 174 churches and temples will reopen with each permit limited to one or two days per week.

“For example, Christians go to church on Sundays,” Ismail said.

Non-Malaysians will not be permitted to attend at first, though Malaysia hosts millions of foreign workers of multiple faiths.

“We start small and as we go on, we increase,” said Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah.

Around 60 per cent of Malaysians are Muslim, 20 per cent are Buddhist, 10 per cent Christian, 6 per cent Hindu, and the remainder adhering to various Chinese beliefs.

Selected mosques were permitted to resume Friday prayers last week ahead of this weekend’s Eid al-Fitr holiday, known in Malay as Idul Fitri, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

An annual exodus known as “balik kampung” usually sees thousands throng the roads from cities such as Kuala Lumpur to spend the holiday in home towns.

Heavy midweek traffic on roads linking the 13 states of Malaysia, formally a federation, prompted Ismail on Thursday to threaten those who travelled across state boundaries with arrest.

Police permission is required for such journeys due to restrictions imposed in March to curb a spike in coronavirus cases.

“We might still be able to get you on the way back to Kuala Lumpur,” Ismail warned.

A strict lockdown ran from March 18 to May 4, when many business were permitted to reopen after the government said the economy was losing around 500 million dollars a day.

Some restrictions, such as on most long-distance domestic travel, will remain in place until June 9. No date has been given for reopening the border, which is closed except to returning Malaysians and some foreigners with long-term visas.

Malaysia has reported 7,059 Covid-19 cases and 114 related deaths, though more than 80 per cent of those infected have recovered.

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