KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — The National Unity Ministry said today it would relay the appeal for a review of the Chinese New Year Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOP) to the National Security Council (NSC) following public uproar.
The council is facing fierce backlash from the Chinese community who feel the protocols are rife with inconsistencies.
This included the ban on family members from different households from attending the reunion dinner, one of the festival's most significant events held on the eve of the Lunar New Year.
“Upon hearing the views and appeals made by the Chinese community regarding the reunion dinner and temple visit on January 11 and 12, as well as February 19, 2021... the National Unity Ministry duly takes note and will appeal to the NSC,” the ministry said in a statement.
Critics of the SOP argued the prohibition made little sense and questioned why night markets (pasar malam) are allowed under the new phase of the current movement control order (MCO) yet families are prevented from gathering for dinner.
The ministry, seemingly in a disclaimer, said the Chinese New Year SOP was the result of careful consideration. As many as 21 Chinese-based organisations were consulted before the protocols were drawn up, the ministry said.
“Preparations for the Chinese New Year SOP were done after the ministry had engaged with 21 religious, cultural, and relevant Chinese-based organisations on January 12 and January 18,” it said.
Any changes to the current health protocols relating to the celebration will be announced by Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the ministry said.
The 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.
“If a family reunion dinner is limited to seisi rumah sahaja (same household only), it is... literally a normal family dinner,” Opposition state lawmaker Lim Yee Wei wrote on Facebook yesterday.
“CNY is a cultural celebration, not a religious one. We don’t really go to temples during CNY... if we pray, the prayer table is set up in our compound. I believe the Chinese community is willing to follow SOPs but make it make sense,” she added.
“Anyway, see you guys at pasar malam!”