HM urges public to heed health guidelines as Hari Raya festivities begin Customary open houses will not be allowed, gatherings must be limited to immediate family

HM the Sultan gives a titah on the eve of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, May 23, 2020. Photo: Infofoto

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – As Hari Raya festivities kick off on Sunday, the monarch urged all residents to abide by health guidelines set out by the government, saying Brunei is still under threat from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congregational prayers that are held at mosques on the first day of Aidilfitri will not take place this year, with places of worship closed since March 16 to curb the spread of the virus.

“For the first time this year, this custom cannot be continued due to the coronavirus pandemic,” His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said in a televised address Saturday night.

“Similarly, the tradition of holding open houses cannot take place due to safety considerations.”

The sultan said Bruneians should practice physical distancing and only visit immediate family members during Hari Raya, with gatherings limited to 20 to 30 people.

According to the Ministry of Health’s guidelines, bigger families must take turns visiting to ensure that the number of people does not become a mass gathering.

His Majesty encouraged families and friends to keep in touch via video chat to replace physical meetings.

The health ministry also released an advisory on Hari Raya celebrations which banned open houses outside of immediate family, and discouraged people from hugging and shaking hands as a form of greeting. It also advised people to avoid visiting family members if they are ill, and to avoid sharing utensils. 

Work-related Raya functions are also not allowed.

The annual open house at Istana Nurul Iman — which typically draws up to 100,000 people — will not take place this year, the monarch noted.

Although some restrictions have been relaxed as Brunei marks 17 days without new coronavirus infections, the government has said the “de-escalation” plan will take place in phases. Eateries and sports facilities have been allowed to reopen — with physical distancing measures in place — but borders remain closed to inbound and outbound travel.

His Majesty commended Bruneians for their “patience and willingness to follow the rules, unlike in other countries where people fight against the regulations”.

The nationwide tally for COVID-19 infections stands at 141 since the first case was reported on March 9. 

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