Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

A quiet Christmas, New Year celebration in Russia’s capital

Monday, December 28th, 2020
This year, the celebration of New Year and Christmas in Moscow will be very modest. - EPA pic
This year, the celebration of New Year and Christmas in Moscow will be very modest. – EPA pic

THIS year, the celebration of New Year and Christmas in Moscow will held be very modest. Russians celebrate Christmas on Jan 7.

At the time of writing, there are no mass events sculed for celebrations, although skating rinks — the biggest of them is on Red Square — and theatres are open.

As for the standard operating procedure in theatres and concert halls, they must be filled no more than a third of their capacity so that the audience members can maintain physical distancing.

People over age 65 are generally not advised to go to theatres and concerts. They should stay home so as not to expose themselves to the danger of infection.

To discourage them from travelling in the city, all free season tickets were cancelled. Meanwhile, on Dec 5, free vaccination against the coronavirus began in the capital.

70 vaccination centres have been opened in Moscow polyclinics.

The first to be vaccinated were doctors,teachers and social workers. Since Dec 14, more Muscovites from risk groups have been able to sign up for vaccination against the coronavirus.

They are employees from public service centres, cultural institutions, as well as trade and service workers—people who are in contact by the nature of their work with millions of citizens, risk themselves and in case of illness will pose a threat to others.

The opportunity to expand the list of workers who can receive vaccination has appeared due to the receipt of a new batch of vaccines.

You can make an appointment for vaccination through the Internet, at information kiosks of city polyclinics, as well as by calling the phone number of a specific vaccination centre.

Vaccination is voluntary only for people between the ages of 18 and 60. I myself cannot get vaccinated because I am over 60 years old.

The situation is the same even for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said recently he had not yet been vaccinated as it was not yet available to people of his age — the Russian head of state is 68 years old.

He said he would do it later when the vaccine was open to people of his age.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the capital’s polyclinics, social services and all utilities will be open on New Year’s to provide medicine and food to those who observe their home regime.

The Moscow train will also operate on New Year’s Eve to prevent crowds.

By Dr Victor A. Pogadaev.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/12/652578/quiet-christmas-new-year-celebration-russias-capital

The spirit of charity amid adversity

Sunday, December 27th, 2020
Lizana Moha with her husband Charles Woodgate and her team of volunteers by a motorway in Kent, England. - NSTP/ZAHARAH OTHMANLizana Moha with her husband Charles Woodgate and her team of volunteers by a motorway in Kent, England. – NSTP/ZAHARAH OTHMAN

THE Covid-19 pandemic has almost taken over our lives this year, hogging the media with news of doom and gloom.

To add to the already troubled times, the crises surrounding Brexit have added to the uncertainties for Britain and Europe.

Christmas was decidedly bleak, with images of truckers stranded in Dover as they were not allowed to leave the United Kingdom when France closed its border to prevent new cases from a coronavirus variant.

But from every dark cloud, there’s usually a ray of sunshine.

Underneath the woes that the pandemic brought came heartwarming stories of good-hearted souls who are doing well beyond their call of duty to help others in their hour of need.

Recently, we read about Cecilia Chuah and her family in Melbourne, Australia, who fed the homeless there and provided them with clothing to keep them warm.

There’s also the touching story about Ustaz Ebit Lew who helped a family who had been living in a car find a new home.

Here in the UK, the generosity of Malaysians continues.

Lizana Moha, or Liza, lives in Tilmanstone, a small and quiet village of Kentin the south east of England, where thousands of truckers are stranded.

She had read about the honourable efforts of the Sikh community there, who rallied together and provided more than 800 free hot meals to ensure that the truckers did not go hungry while waiting to be tested before they are allowed to drive across the Channel Tunnel.

The local community there had also been helping by lowering food supplies from the overhead bridge to the truckers.

Liza found her calling. The former Malaysian Airlines stewardess who is married to Charles Woodgate, fondly known as Che Ali, knew that the holiday season is a time for giving and sharing.

Subsequently, she posted on her Facebook page that she and her volunteer friends were going to give the stranded hauliers on the M256 motorway some hot food. She appealed for anyone with excess food, drinks and cakes to donate. And certainly, she wasn’t disappointed.

Her fellow villagers and neighbours had been quick to reach out to the hauliers, many of whom had already seen their plans to spend Christmas with their families ruined.

Liza, who hails from Ipoh, has made England her home since 2001. She acquired her cooking skills from her mother, Hajjah Ropeah, and teaches Malaysian cuisine at Chequers Kitchen, school of Cookery in Deal, Kent.

She also helps with any voluntary work in and around her area.

As the pandemic had dashed her plans to travel back to Malaysia, the mother of two now makes herself busy to keep her mind off missing her mum in Ipoh.

To help ease the hardship of the hauliers stranded in what seemed to be the among the coldest winter nights this year, she cooked chicken curry and mixed vegetables to go with rice.

She and her friends also sent donations to Manston airport for food to be distributed to the overnight hauliers.

Despite all her work, she still made it home to cook a full Christmas dinner with puddings for her husband and two boys, who had also been instrumental with their support and help.

Another kind soul is Noor Azlina Zainal Abidin, who together with her husband Grenville Peter Mills, are the owners of Cafe Rasa Malaysia at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, East London. The couple, who dream of opening a soup kitchen to feed the needy, now provide packed hot turkey meals for the rough sleepers and homeless in Kent, where they live.

“It is nothing special, just a small contribution from us,” said Azlina.

Malaysians who have made their homes abroad have been giving back to the communities they live in.

Syebvonne Nguyen from Ipoh made thousands of masks and cooked and cared for those who couldn’t leave their homes during the pandemic, just like Dr Eliesmaziah Elias who made personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals in her hometown in Manchester and was given recognition by the local mayor for her contribution.

Last but not least, there is Mercy Malaysia UK (MMUK) which has done so much during the pandemic by providing face masks and PPE to hospitals, care homes and the community.

For the coming new year, MMUK in collaboration with a Malaysian restaurant in London, Putera Puteri, will be providing food to the homeless and rough sleepers.

The pandemic may have an ugly face, but it certainly brings out the best in all us.

By Zaharah Othman.

Read more  @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2020/12/652356/spirit-charity-amid-adversity

The true spirit of Christmas

Saturday, December 26th, 2020
THIS time the Grinch really did steal Christmas!

Dr Seuss’ classic Christmas tale has enthralled generations of children since it first appeared in the 1950s.

It follows the Grinch, a grumpy, cave-dwelling creature who attempts to put an end to Christmas by stealing presents from the homes of a nearby town. The story has a happy ending, but more on that later.

How the Grinch stole Christmas is of course a work of fiction, but for many Christians celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ around the world, this year’s Christmas feels like it has been well and truly cancelled.

I had intended to host a small gathering, but a friend I invited, never one to mince her words, put it rather harshly, “just stay home”.

With troubling case numbers in the Klang Valley and a new, more deadly Covid-19 strain discovered in the United Kingdom, who can blame her though?

Anxiety about Christmas being cancelled and not being allowed to celebrate the occasion has been a constant theme in British media for the last few weeks now. And the UK government finally decided they did not have any other alternative but to put many parts of the country under lockdown during this festive period.

Reining in Christmas, the argument goes, will save lives and will benefit society as a whole. The backlash from the British public was predictable. Not being able to meet family, not being able to have a few pints down at the local pub, not being able to attend parties – Brits are big on nostalgia during Christmas but with Covid-19 numbers exceeding two million and almost 70,000 deaths, this isn’t the time for nostalgia.

Back home, I know many people are upset that the conditional movement control order in the Klang Valley has not been lifted.

It has in fact been extended to Dec 31 and there is a distinct possibility that this could even be prolonged into the new year.

But despite the toll of the pandemic and resulting economic hardship, many businesses have demonstrated resilience.

These businesses – F&B outlets, shopping centres, etc – have put measures in place and have remained relevant and open for the sake of commercial survival.

In this year of restrictions, we’ve already had muted Hari Raya and Deepavali celebrations.

Christmas will not be any different. Travel restrictions have been lifted, but SOPs, just like for the other festivals, restricts the number of people that can gather to celebrate the occasion.

But does this mean we can’t have a meaningful Christmas celebration? Staying home doesn’t mean being terrified of going to the supermarket and getting essentials for the occasion. Staying home doesn’t mean you can’t hug your loved ones and enjoy a home-cooked meal with them.

But if you really want to do something meaningful, this year-end is the perfect time to think of the less fortunate. Many charities in this pandemic year have been hard hit in terms of funding as corporations scale down on their corporate social responsibility projects and individuals cut down on their donations.

This has certainly impacted the well-being of these charity homes. So, before you click that button to get that next gift that you don’t really want, think of what your RM100 or even RM50 could do for the less fortunate.

So, try getting a bunch of friends together, visit the supermarket, buy some essentials and donate these items to orphanages and old folks homes. That is the true spirit of Christmas.

Dr Seuss’ Grinch realised this belatedly, because it dawned on him that “maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting.

He ended up returning the gifts he stole to the townsfolk and celebrated Christmas with them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant a reboot of sorts for mankind. It has made us rethink how vulnerable we are and how dependent we are on social interaction.

It also brings into stark reality the fact that we have to be a lot more responsible for each other and for society as a whole.

For those of the Christian persuasion, allow me to quote one of the greatest theologians who walked the earth, St Thomas Aquinas.

“Christian life cannot dispense from the Cross since it has no meaning without the heart-pressing weight of duty.”

May the weight of duty drive you, dear reader, to not lose courage.

May the weight of duty drive you to be more responsible as we fight this hidden enemy that has not been conquered yet.

May the weight of duty carry you through as fathers, mothers, children, employees, government servants and politicians to do what is right for the sake of the common good and not for selfish reasons.

A blessed Christmas to all those celebrating and a very peaceful and happy New Year. May the year 2021 bring you resolve, hope and charity.

By BRIAN MARTIN.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/on-your-side/2020/12/25/the-true-spirit-of-christmas

Malaysians celebrate Christmas in the new normal

Friday, December 25th, 2020
Tashvinii Khalidass offers her prayers at St Anthony Church in Jalan Pudu in Kuala Lumpur. - NSTP/HAZREEN MOHAMADTashvinii Khalidass offers her prayers at St Anthony Church in Jalan Pudu in Kuala Lumpur. – NSTP/HAZREEN MOHAMAD

KUALA LUMPUR: Christians in the country celebrated Christmas today on a moderate scale and in a spirit of goodwill, in accordance with the new normal to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Worshipers gathered at several churches which were opened at a limited capacity except for areas that have been placed under the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO).

No large-scale open houses were held as visits were only allowed with limited number of guests comprising only close family members.

Churchgoers observing the SOP while attending the service in Methodist Tamil Church in Brickfields.  - NSTP/AIZUDDIN SAADChurchgoers observing the SOP while attending the service in Methodist Tamil Church in Brickfields. – NSTP/AIZUDDIN SAAD

In SELANGOR, Christians began arriving at the Our Lady of Lourd Church in Klang as early as 8am for a religious service and spent about 15 minutes before returning home.

Pastor Frederick Joseph, when met by Bernama, said this year’s Christmas celebration at the church was different from those in previous years, as all activities must be done in compliance with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the relevant authorities.

“Last year, about 1,500 worshipers and their families gathered at the church to perform prayer ceremonies, but this year, we have to follow the SOPs considering the Klang district itself is still categorised as a (Covid-19) red zone area,” he said.

In PERAK, devotees attending service at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ipoh were spotted wearing face masks and generally followed the other SOPs set.

Only about 100 Christians were allowed to enter the hall to participate in the religious ceremony which started at 7am and lasted for an hour.

In NEGRI SEMBILAN, it was a moderate but lively Christmas celebration for about 400 Orang Asli in Kampung Orang Asli Tekir Mentera, Labu.

Headman Ramli Taka, 67, said celebrations for the Orang Asli community in the village took place among immediate family members at their respective homes.

“Unlike in previous years, we celebrate Christmas this year at home in adherence to the SOPs set by the government following the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.,” he said.

A staff at Stella Maris Church in Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, sanatises ahead of the service this morning. -NSTP/MOHD ADAM ARININA staff at Stella Maris Church in Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, sanatises ahead of the service this morning. -NSTP/MOHD ADAM ARININ

In MELAKA, Christmas was celebrated in a muted manner at the country’s only traditional Portuguese village in Ujong Pasir, as no usual cultural performances were held this year.

Village Development and Security committee (JPKK) chairman Marina Lindadanker said no carolling sessions from house to house were held on Christmas Eve in light of the Covid-19 pandemic

“Usually, a week before Christmas, various activities and performances will be held which have also become a special tourist attraction here,” she said.

In SARAWAK, the St Thomas’ Cathedral in Kuching, which can accommodate up to 1,500 people at any one time, today limited the number of attendees to only 200 people.

The Sarawak State Disaster Management Committee (JPBN) had ruled that Christians in the state were only allowed to hold Christmas celebrations on the first day, while visits were limited to only 20 people at a time.

In SABAH, prayer ceremonies were held at churches with limited attendance of congregants in full compliance with the SOPs, including wearing face masks and checking-in using the MySejahtera application.

Interestingly, some Christians in the state utilised the technology as a new way of celebrating Christmas including by holding virtual Christmas carolling.

by Bernama.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/12/652192/malaysians-celebrate-christmas-new-normal

King and Queen convey Christmas wishes

Thursday, December 24th, 2020
 Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah expressed their hopes for peace, prosperity, unity and jubilation among those celebrating Christmas. - Pic credit Istana Negara Facebook pageYang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah expressed their hopes for peace, prosperity, unity and jubilation among those celebrating Christmas. – Pic credit Istana Negara Facebook page

KUALA LUMPUR: Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah expressed their hopes for peace, prosperity, unity and jubilation among those celebrating Christmas.

In a statement today, Istana Negara’s Comptroller of the Royal Household, Datuk Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said Al-Sultan Abdullah and Tunku Azizah also hoped the people would not be dejected by the year’s sombre mood following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although Christmas Day this year will be ushered according to regulations and restrictions, Their Majesties said the people should be grateful since they are blessed with good health to celebrate the festive occasion with their families and loved ones.

“Their Majesties also reminded the people who celebrate the festive occasion to remain cautious and disciplined in looking after their safety and health by complying with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) implemented by the government and health authorities.

“Their Majesties also take the opportunity to wish the people a Happy New Year in conjunction with the coming 2021 new year,” read the statement.

Their Majesties, he said, also called on the people to continue praying for the country to be blessed and protected from any form of threats as well as for continued prosperity and unity that have long been enjoyed by the nation.

On other matters, Ahmad Fadil said Al-Sultan Abdullah who is on a five-day visit to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is expected to return home tomorrow (Dec 25).

“In line with the SOP by the government, Al-Sultan Abdullah will undergo a Covid-19 test upon his arrival from Abu Dhabi at the Bunga Raya Complex of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“Al-Sultan Abdullah will also celebrate the New Year at Istana Negara since His Majesty has been advised to undergo self-quarantine as required by the Health Ministry for those returning or entering Malaysia from abroad,” he said.

By Adib Povera.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/12/651993/king-and-queen-convey-christmas-wishes

Imago first mall to hold virtual Christmas and New Year event

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

Imago Shopping Mall conducts online Christmas and New Year celebrations.

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia continues to be gripped by Covid-19 with the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) still in force until 31st December 2020.

This makes celebration with friends and families impossible as everyone is expected to continue to comply strictly with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) enforced by the government.

Shopping malls are also finding new ways to cope with this, but Imago Shopping Mall has come up with an interesting way to celebrate Christmas and to usher in the New Year as they bring the celebrations to everyone instead.

Imago Shopping Mall is always known for its glamorous and stunning events and decorations until it has become almost like a tradition for people to visit every year.

This year, Imago Shopping Mall broke from tradition and conducted online Christmas and New Year celebrations via Facebook Live instead, with the theme this year called, “Devotion – Eternal Faith, Forever Love”.

Their focus this year is to bring the festive mood to everyone virtually online as many cannot travel far, some forced to stay at home, while some have to be at the frontlines.

According to Dr Yu Tat Loong, Executive Director of Asian Pac Holdings Berhad, owner of Imago Shopping Mall, “Year 2020 is probably one of the rare periods in our life when we are faced with challenges one after another. There is so much gloom and doom in the news that we started thinking about what we can do to bring some positive vibes back into people’s life. Hence, we thought about bringing Christmas and New Year celebrations to people wherever they are, where even those at the frontlines can be part of this celebration.”

“The theme ‘Devotion’ is a tribute to those who have devoted themselves in the fight against everything negative around us, whether to the unsung heroes at the frontlines, or to the various sectors and industries fighting hard for survival, or to family and friends supporting each other one way or another to survive this Covid-19 crisis that cannot seem to end. The sunflower theme this year is to symbolise our indomitable will to fight on and to pursue the positivity in life,” added Yu.

Imago Shopping Mall seems to be the first mall in Malaysia to conduct a virtual Christmas and New Year celebration live from the mall itself. The Facebook Live broadcast is from 21-23 December 2020 and 28-30 December 2020 09:00pm to 10:30pm.

Imago Shopping Mall has also consciously and actively supported local by bringing Sabah’s talents together such as Jonathan & Leo, Santiana Ramli, Stega, Rachel Wesley Pai, Sarma & Jonathan, Lawrance Band, Jason, Emma Suhaimi, Gin Liau.

“While we must continue to be vigilant in our fight against Covid-19, we also need to look ahead and plan for the future and what better time to do so than now as we move into a new year. We will all come out stronger from this, as long as we stay strong, say positive, and stay safe,” said Yu.

A special Christmas Eve and New Year Countdown live broadcast on 24 December and 31 December respectively will also be held, including also local performers like K-Clique, Benzoloo, Khalif Band, Santiana Ramli, Emma Suhaimi, Wesley Liew, Borneoholic, Tianlong, Rica, Adam Shamil, Megan, True Echo, Dabra Sia, Marleynney Fane, Asif & Rene Vintage Jazz Band, Jonathan Tse, Farish, Gee.

Live online lucky draws will also take place during the live sessions with Imago Shopping Mall giving away cash vouchers to lucky winners where the top prizes are RM1,500/= Tory Burch and Coach cash vouchers among many more.

Read more @ https://www.theborneopost.com/2020/12/23/imago-first-mall-to-hold-virtual-christmas-and-new-year-event/

How Covid is ruining Christmas, New Year

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020
People wearing protective face masks queue outside a Louis Vuitton boutique store for their Christmas shopping during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Lausanne, Switzerland. - EPA picPeople wearing protective face masks queue outside a Louis Vuitton boutique store for their Christmas shopping during the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Lausanne, Switzerland. – EPA pic

PARIS: The world is readying for a downbeat festive season with Christmas plans in tatters and New Year celebrations without crowds or fireworks – all scuppered by new virus curbs.

Here is an overview of how Covid-19 is putting a kibosh on the festivities.

Lockdowns

With a new strain “out of control” and more than 40 countries banning travel with Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson scraps plans to relax the rules over Christmas and tells people to stay home. London and southeast England – where the new strain is worst – will remain in lockdown until Dec 30.

In Italy people can only leave their homes once a day until Jan 6, with bars, restaurants and non-essential shops also shuttered.

The Netherlands has reimposed a lockdown until Jan 19 with schools and all non-essential shops closed, while Germany is under partial lockdown till Jan 10.

Norway has called on its population to follow a voluntary lockdown, while Sweden has done a U-turn on its lax attitude to the virus by asking people to wear masks on public transport at peak times.

France has slightly eased its lockdown, but has also introduced a curfew from 8pm every night with a one-day reprieve on Dec 25.

Christmas gatherings

Among the countries allowing gatherings over Christmas, Belgium is setting its limit to just one guest per household, and two guests for people living alone. Luxembourg is allowing two guests per household.

From Dec 24 to 26 in Germany, gatherings are limited to close family members.

The Netherlands is advising households to welcome no more than three guests at Christmas while France has set the maximum at six adults around the dinner table.

Quebec in Canada has scrapped its decision to allow gatherings over a four-day period during Christmas, in light of the sharp rise in new infections there.

And Ireland declared a cold Christmas Tuesday with families urged to stay at home and only two households allowed to mix from Dec 27.

Christmas shopping

Last-minute Christmas shopping is off in Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia and the southeast of England where non-essential shops have shut.

And there is no hope of warming up with some mulled wine in Germany from traditional outdoor stands, all shut this year.

Non-essential shops have reopened in France, but there will be no restaurants open for New Year celebrations, nor live shows.

In Switzerland, restaurants, as well as culture and sports facilities are all closing their doors before Christmas, while shops will stay open.

Christmas Mass

Pope Francis has brought the Vatican’s Christmas midnight mass forward by two hours due to Italy’s curfew.

Christmas mass in Bethlehem will take place without worshippers.

Singing in churches in Switzerland is banned, while in Greece churches will open for the festive period but with a capacity of nine people, and 25 in cathedrals.

Croatia has imposed travel restrictions for the holidays but eased curbs on Christmas masses.

New Year

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Austria have all announced fresh lockdowns immediately after Christmas.

While Portugal is imposing a curfew on New Year’s Eve and Kazakhstan will ban all mass gatherings and events from Dec 25 and through the New Year.

A partial lockdown will come into force in Poland for three weeks starting Dec 28.

And schools, universities, non-essential shops, restaurants, cinemas and sports venues will all shut in Ukraine from Jan 8 to 24.

by AFP.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/world/world/2020/12/651558/how-covid-ruining-christmas-new-year

Penang’s Thaipusam chariot procession may be cancelled due to Covid

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020
The procession of the over 100-year-old silver chariot and the recent golden chariot is the highlight of the annual three-day Thaipusam celebration in the state. - NSTP/File pic/pic taken before the Covid-19 pandemic.The procession of the over 100-year-old silver chariot and the recent golden chariot is the highlight of the annual three-day Thaipusam celebration in the state. – NSTP/File pic/pic taken before the Covid-19 pandemic.

GEORGE TOWN: The famous dual chariot procession bearing the statue of Lord Murugan, held during Thaipusam in Penang, is most likely to be cancelled next year due to Covid-19.

The procession of the over 100-year-old silver chariot and the recent golden chariot is the highlight of the annual three-day Thaipusam celebration in the state.

Penang Hindu Endowment Board (PHEB) chairman Prof Dr P. Ramasamy said the state will have a series of meetings to discuss how to manage Thaipusam next year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our priority is on the safety of all devotees as chariots are the ones that pull in the crowd. Once you have the chariot procession, the crowd will be very difficult to control. We do not want the Thaipusam gathering to spark off any new cluster,” he told Bernama during an interview here.

Ramasamy, who is also the Penang Deputy Chief Minister II said the PHEB will make a careful decision in the interest of the larger public.

“We have yet to decide on whether to have a chariot procession or not on Thaipusam. I don’t want to preempt anything… we will conduct a series of meetings and let the health experts decide,” he said.

He said more detailed standard operating procedures (SOP) on Thaipusam celebration will be out in the first week of January after discussion with the Health Department, National Security Council and the Royal Malaysia Police.

Ramasamy said if the authorities decide that there should be no chariot procession, no panthals and no kavadis, he hopes all the devotees will abide by it.

“The people, when it comes to religious matters, might get very emotional, but I just want to remind them to adhere to all the SOPs set by the authorities as they are in the interest of the larger public,” he said.

Hindu devotees celebrate Thaipusam on the full moon day of the Tamil month of ‘Thai’. Next year, that date falls on Jan 28.

Every year, thousands of devotees follow the chariots by foot along its route of about 8km before it reaches the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple and Nattukkottai Chettiar Temple in Jalan Kebun Bunga here during the Thaipusam festival.

by BERNAMA.

Read more  @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2020/12/651491/penangs-thaipusam-chariot-procession-may-be-cancelled-due-covid

Christmas finally arrives in Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020
Expats living in Saudi Arabia choose Christmas decorations at a gift shop in the capital Riyadh on Dec 7, 2020. - Until barely three years ago, such items were almost impossible to be openly sold in Saudi Arabia, where authorities have clipped the powers of the clerical establishment long notorious for enforcing Islamic traditions. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)Expats living in Saudi Arabia choose Christmas decorations at a gift shop in the capital Riyadh on Dec 7, 2020. – Until barely three years ago, such items were almost impossible to be openly sold in Saudi Arabia, where authorities have clipped the powers of the clerical establishment long notorious for enforcing Islamic traditions. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)

RIYADH: Christmas trees and glittery ornaments are for sale at a Saudi gift shop, a once unthinkable sight in the cradle of Islam where all public non-Muslim worship is banned.

In recent years, festive sales have gradually crept into the capital Riyadh, a sign of loosening social restrictions after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged to steer the conservative Gulf kingdom towards an “open, moderate Islam.”

“I didn’t ever imagine I’d see this” in Saudi Arabia, a Riyadh resident told AFP at the shop selling trees, Santa Claus outfits as well as tinsel, baubles and other ornaments.

“I am surprised,” said the resident, declining to be identified.

Until barely three years ago, it was almost impossible to sell such items openly in Saudi Arabia, but authorities have been clipping the powers of the clerical establishment long notorious for enforcing Islamic traditions.

For decades, Christmas sales were largely underground, and Christians from the Philippines, Lebanon and other countries celebrated behind closed doors or in expat enclaves.

“It was very difficult to find such” Christmas items in the kingdom, said Mary, a Lebanese expat based in Riyadh who preferred to be identified by her first name.

“Many of my friends used to buy them from Lebanon or Syria and sneak them into the country,” she said.

In 2018, amid Prince Mohammed’s liberalisation drive, Saudi customs authorities warned on Twitter that Christmas trees were forbidden from entering the country.

But the tweet, which drew sharp online ridicule, appeared to go unheeded.

In a sign of the changing times, the Riyadh shop manager, Omar, who declined to provide his surname, said this year his store sold not just Christmas items but also outfits for Halloween – widely seen by arch-conservatives as an American tradition that is a deviation from Islam.

Saudi Arabia is the custodian of Makkah and Madinah, Islam’s two holiest sites.

The Arab kingdom has long been accused of exporting its ultra-conservative Wahhabist Sunni doctrine around the world but has been slowly pushing for inter-religious exchange.

It has even hosted officials linked to the Vatican as well as Jewish figures in recent years.

Local officials say school textbooks, once well-known for denigrating Jews and other non-Muslims as “swines” and “apes”, are undergoing revision as part of Prince Mohammed’s campaign to combat extremism in education.

The heir to the Saudi throne has curbed the influence of the once-powerful religious police, as he permits mixed-gender music concerts, cinemas and other entertainment, but temples and churches are still forbidden.

Earlier this month, the United States reconfirmed Saudi Arabia’s place among a list of countries on a religious freedom blacklist.

The countries are accused of engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”, according to the US State Department.

Last month, Prince Mohammed pledged to strike extremists with an “iron fist”, after a bombing against a gathering of Western diplomats at a non-Muslim cemetery in the Red Sea city of Jeddah that was claimed by the Islamic State group.

by AFP.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/world/world/2020/12/651072/christmas-finally-arrives-saudi-arabia

Britain says new virus strain ‘out of control’

Monday, December 21st, 2020
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a ‘stay at home’ order for London and southeast England to slow a new coronavirus strain that is significantly more infectious. - AFP picBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced a ‘stay at home’ order for London and southeast England to slow a new coronavirus strain that is significantly more infectious. – AFP pic

LONDON: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the government has imposed a strict Christmas lockdown in London and southeast England because a new strain of the coronavirus was “out of control”.

Hancock warned that the strict measures that affect almost a third of England’s population could stay in place until the virus vaccine is fully rolled out.

“We acted very quickly and decisively,” Hancock told Sky News, justifying the “stay at home” order, ban on family gatherings over Christmas and closure of non-essential shops.

“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that millions must cancel Christmas plans and stay home because the new strain was spreading far more quickly.

Around 16.4 million people entered the strictest “tier four” measures from Sunday, or 31 percent of England’s population.

They are not allowed to hold family gatherings for Christmas, while in the rest of the country households are allowed to mix on Christmas Day alone.

London’s Metropolitan Police said that it would take action against those who “make reckless decisions that risk lives.”

Other UK regions have also tightened their anti-virus measures in response.

Wales introduced a strict lockdown from Sunday, while Scotland has banned travel to and from other UK regions for Christmas. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland will enter fresh lockdowns on December 26.

Hancock told Sky News that the situation was “deadly serious.”

“It’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out,” he said, adding: “This is what we face over the next couple of months.”

The UK hopes to reach a figure of half a million vaccinations over the weekend, the health minister said.

Scientists first discovered the new variant in a patient in September, Susan Hopkins of Public Health England told Sky News.

She said that scientists in November found the new strain was behind a cluster of cases in Kent and spreading into London and Essex and informed the government on December 11.

Public Health England then again notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain, she said.

She confirmed the figure given by Johnson that the new virus strain could be 70 percent more transmissible while saying this was an initial figure.

“I think 70 percent looks like a good number to land on at the moment,” she said.

The virus has been found in all regions of England but in small numbers, Hopkins said.

Hancock said cases have also been identified in Australia and Europe.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said Saturday that the new strain “contains 23 different changes,” including to the way the virus binds to human cells and enters cells.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told Sky News that London now has the same number of inpatients with the virus as during the peak of the first wave in April. Cases have also grown rapidly among those aged 10 to 19, he said.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Observer weekly that “if this new variant is behind the increase in this age group, then that is a big worry.”

The grave situation prompted widespread criticism of the prime minister for promising last week not to “cancel Christmas.”

“Not much was understood about this mutant virus. But that uncertainty should have been enough for the PM to see that then was the time to call off Christmas,” wrote The Sunday Mirror weekly.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer said in a video statement: “We have a prime minister who is so scared of being unpopular that he is incapable of taking tough decisions until it is too late.”

Some Londoners backed the lockdown measures.

“See I think it’s the right move at the moment,” said Marcel Hadula.

“We don’t want to overwhelm the NHS, because if we do that, then how can we effectively treat everybody that will come into contact with this new strain of the Covid virus?”

But Chiara Morreale said her relatives were likely to break the lockdown rules over Christmas.

“On Christmas (Day) there’s a good chance, my auntie and uncle will come around,” she said.

by AFP.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/world/world/2020/12/650983/britain-says-new-virus-strain-out-control