BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – As Brunei ushers in the first day of Syawal on Friday, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah has called on all residents to prioritise safety and celebrate this year’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri “in moderation” in the midst of a pandemic.

Raya traditions such as visiting family and friends, must be adapted during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the monarch said in his customary Aidilfitri titah televised on Thursday night.

Festivities should not be celebrated on a large scale this year as residents are still required to follow public health guidelines, His Majesty said.

“Precautionary measures remain a priority even when we are celebrating Hari Raya,” he added.

His Majesty said Bruneians must adhere to the Ministry of Health’s guidelines on Hari Raya gatherings, in addition to other safety rules.

“It is important to remember that we cannot neglect safety and health while celebrating this joyous occasion, including road users,” he continued.

The government has eased restrictions on Raya gatherings this year, with immediate family and close friends allowed to congregate at a time, depending on the size of one’s home.

Large families can also host private events at a hall as long as they observe social distancing measures.

For the second straight year, Istana Nurul Iman will not open its doors to visitors for the annual open house.

Brunei has not reported locally transmitted COVID-19 cases for over a year, with the overall tally reaching 231.

Last year, Raya celebrations were muted as open houses were banned and only parents and siblings can visit one another.

The sultan further said it is a blessing that Brunei can perform mass Aidilfitri prayers at mosques, surau and prayer halls this year, a welcome change after places of worship were forced to close due to COVID-19 last year.

‘No excuse for neglecting duties during Raya’

His Majesty also warned civil servants not to neglect their responsibilities during the festive season.

“It is common to see empty or nearly empty government offices every year because government employees go out and celebrate Raya during working hours.

“Hari Raya is not an excuse or reason for the government to neglect its duties,” he added.

The sultan said he does not wish to see this bad practice continue or become part of the government’s working culture.

“It is not only against the rules, but is also at odds with religion.”