Facing backlash, a ‘baffled’ Ismail Sabri says CNY celebration SOPs endorsed by Chinese groups

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob speaks at a press conference on the development of the MCO and EMCO at the Ministry of Defence in Kuala Lumpur, February 4, 2021. — Bernama pic
Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob speaks at a press conference on the development of the MCO and EMCO at the Ministry of Defence in Kuala Lumpur, February 4, 2021. — Bernama pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has defended the Covid-19 standard operation procedures SOPs announced for the Chinese New Year celebrations against public criticism, saying the protocols were only passed after engaging dozens of stakeholder groups.

The senior and defence minister said he is “baffled” by the public backlash that followed his announcement of the SOPs yesterday, when they had been prepared and endorsed by associations and bodies that represent the ethnic Chinese community.

Ismail said the National Security Council adopts recommendations made by the National Unity Ministry (KPN) when preparing the SOPs for religious or cultural celebrations.

Ismail noted the same procedure had been adopted for this year’s Lunar Year celebration anti-Covid 19 protocols.

“For example before we announced the SOPs for Deepavali, Thaipusam, Christmas, Gawai Day and Kaamatan, KPN had already engaged and obtained agreement from religious leaders about how to draft the SOPs,” the minister said in a statement.

“Normally, to respect the recommendations, the government rarely alters the SOP that has been decided by the KPN, religious leaders, and the relevant organisations,” he added.

KPN had engaged with 21 religious, cultural and community-based organisations that represent the Chinese before preparing the Lunar Year celebrations SOPs for this year, the ministry said in a statement issued earlier today.

The groups held two separate meetings with the KPN, first on January 12 and the second on January 18.

“So I am baffled as to why the SOPs for this year’s Chinese New Year celebrations are being heavily criticised by the public,” Ismail said.

The SOP debacle quickly became the subject of ridicule both from the public and politicians from all sides, who said the regulations have come to characterise the government’s poor response to the pandemic.

Despite enforcing Emergency rule and a new round of lockdown that started three weeks ago, the rate of daily positive cases has continued to soar.

On social media, people began creating memes to mock the SOPs alongside several elected representatives who joked that families could now shift their reunion dinners from home to the night market, and would still be deemed to have complied with Covid-19 regulations.

The NSC published a FAQ yesterday detailing the SOPs, among them, limiting the customary reunion dinner only to members of the same household.

Critics have since attempted to pile pressure to force the NSC to review the SOPs.

Ismail suggested today any changes to the protocols will hinge on the KPN.

“If there are any adjustments by the KPN after taking into account the views of the public, KPN can retable them for the NSC’s consideration,” the minister said.

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