20’s a crowd, health group disagrees with move to allow ‘small’ Raya parties

Hari Raya decoration lights outside a public flat in Kuala Lumpur. The government says it will allow private Hari Raya gatherings as long as they do not exceed 20 people.

PETALING JAYA: A rule allowing friends and relatives in the same state to celebrate the upcoming Hari Raya together as long as they do not exceed 20 people per group at any one time has been criticised by a public health watchdog which says it is not reassuring in the fight to contain Covid-19.

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said the rule, announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday, would defeat social distancing measures.

The government announced a one-month extension of its conditional movement control order (CMCO) yesterday, prohibiting interstate travel and the traditional “balik kampung” exodus.

However, “small” Hari Raya parties of not more than 20 people would still be allowed, despite a general ban on gatherings and close contact activities.

But Galen said 20 people in a house was still a crowd, adding that it was not practical to expect hosts to limit the number of guests.

“No ifs, but or caveats,” said Galen’s Azrul Mohd Khalib.

“There is no rationale given on why the 20-person (limit) is acceptable when 30 isn’t, or how risk is reduced and acceptable in a party of 20,” he told FMT.

He said in such private settings, it is not possible to practise social distancing or virus containment measures such as wearing the face mask.

Azrul also said it is impossible for people to know whether their friends and relatives have been infected.

He voiced similar concerns on the government’s plan to allow prayer congregations, including for Hari Raya.

Mosques and other worship houses nationwide have been closed since March 18, when the movement control order (MCO) was declared.

But yesterday, Muhyiddin said Islamic authorities were finalising standard operating procedures (SOPs) on mass prayers, to be presented to Malay rulers as heads of Islamic affairs in their respective states for approval.

Azrul said resuming congregational prayers would be risky.

“Disease prevention depends on the ability to change the behaviour of congregants,” he added.

He said it was possible to substantially reduce the number of people allowed to attend a congregation.

“If it is that small, what’s the point of having the congregational prayer?”

He said communal sharing is an intrinsic part of religious rituals.

“Even communal prayer mats will be a source of transmission,” he added.

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