WITH Qing Ming (Tomb-Sweeping Day) Festival coming up on April 4 and the movement control order still in force (the conditional phase for Selangor and Kuala Lumpur is extended until March 31), cemeteries in various cities are ensuring the SOP is observed strictly in the continuous concerted fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, the steps taken are also to avoid the hefty fine on violators.
Kwong Tong Cemetery (KTC) Kuala Lumpur is stepping up efforts to ensure visitors paying respect to their ancestors and deceased loved ones follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) set by the government.
KTC Qing Ming director-in-charge Chen Fu Xiang said that while the government had set a generic SOP for visitors, the cemetery management was tightening it further.
“Firstly, we are restricting the pagoda’s (columbarium) opening to weekdays only to reduce the crowd, as we expect more visitors will come and perform prayer rites at the burial ground during weekends.
“We also limit the number of visitors to six people in a group despite the general SOP stating that up to 10 people in a group is allowed for those praying at the columbarium.
“We have prepared the QR code for KTC at our official websites and Facebook page for visitors to scan so that they can save time during their visits.
“Also to speed things along, we encourage visitors to simplify food offerings and tidy up their prayer space so that the tables can be available for the next group of people, ” he said during a press conference held at the KTC management office.
Chen emphasised that KTC had taken extra measures to ensure visitors’ safety and shorten their visitation time to conduct prayers during this pandemic.
“KTC is offering to burn joss paper on behalf of the families for their ancestors.
“We have provided a special site for visitors who want to use this service, to place their offerings after their prayers.
“Then our staff will help them to burn the paper offerings so that they can reduce the duration of their visit to KTC.
“To ensure all visitors scan the MySejahtera QR code, we have assigned a group of employees to patrol the burial ground with the code to make it more convenient for our visitors.
“The cemeteries are an open area and some people may have to visit different ancestors’ graves in different locations.
“Visitors must scan the individual QR code at the respective cemeteries, ” he added.
With this year’s theme “Let’s Pray For All”, visitors are urged to adhere to all SOP and stay safe while paying respects to their ancestors.
KTC management chairman Lee Chun Kong said they had made preparations to observe the SOP for three months so that visitors nationwide could pay their respect to their ancestors this year at KTC.
“We are expecting the crowd to peak this coming two weekends as some will want to burn the joss paper they have bought last year for their ancestors.
“We also find that visitors are already mindful of the SOP in place, and the crowds coming to carry out their ancestral duty will be staggered throughout the week.
“However, we still wish to remind visitors to adhere to the SOP at all times, ” he said, adding that a group had been warned by the police for violating the SOP on the number of people permitted.
“The burial ground is an open area and to prevent anyone from flouting SOP again, we will have more employees to patrol the cemetery during prayer hours and advise visitors if they are found not following the SOP, ” said Lee.
He reiterated that the safety of visitors was of utmost importance as this would set a precedent for other cemeteries and columbarium in the future.
“This is the first year we open up to visitors during Qing Ming with SOP in place.
“We hope that everyone can perform their prayers in a safe manner, ” he said.
From March 20 to April 18, visitors can conduct their prayers at the KTC from 6am to 6pm on weekdays and 5am to 6pm on weekends.
The Pagoda Office will only operate from 8.30am to 3pm on weekends while the funeral parlour office opens from 8.30am to 5pm daily.
No appointment is needed while those aged 70 and above and children below 12 years old are not allowed to enter KTC.
So far, visitors to the cemeteries and columbarium under the Johor Baru Tiong-Hua Association to perform Qing Ming rites have been cooperative and followed the government’s standard operating procedures (SOP), said association president Ho Sow Tong.
He had visited four cemeteries and columbarium to observe the situation since the association reopened the facilities on March 20 for the festival, also known as Chinese All Souls Day.
“Although March 23 was a public holiday in Johor, we did not see large crowds as it was still considered early in the festival.
“The actual festival date falls on April 4 this year and people usually go to the graves within 14 days before or after.
“We have staff and the Malaysian Volunteer Corps (Rela) members stationed at the facilities’ entry and exit points to supervise the registration process and ensure that the SOP is practised.
“We also handed out flyers with the SOP, guidelines and MySejahtera code for a quicker check-in process to prevent crowds from building up at the entrances.
“So far, those who came had abided by the SOP while paying respects to their deceased relatives.
“We expect a larger crowd this weekend (March 27 and 28), which are considered good dates according to the lunar calendar, ” he said in an interview with StarMetro.
He said the Chinese community was relieved over the government giving the green light for the festival, as they could not visit cemeteries and columbarium to perform their ancestral duties during last year’s Qing Ming.
While the association’s cemeteries and columbarium located in Jalan Ulu Air Molek, Kebun Teh, Johor Jaya and Gelang Patah are open to the public for the occasion, some cemeteries have chosen to remain closed due to the lack of resources and manpower, said Ho.
“This is because some of the older cemeteries like those in Pontian and Muar are not gated and do not have designated entry and exit points, which makes it difficult to regulate traffic flow.
“Another reason is because the respective committees, which only collect a minimal fee from the deceased’s relatives to maintain the burial grounds, also do not have the resources to hire manpower to supervise the area.
“Our association encourages all cemeteries and columbarium to reopen their facilities to the public since the government has allowed it, but we cannot force them due to those reasons, ” he explained.
National Unity Ministry announced that the SOP for Qing Ming Festival at cemeteries and columbarium was approved and would apply from March 20 to April 18, which meant 14 days before and another 14 days after the actual festival date.
The Chinese community commemorates Qing Ming by cleaning the graves of their ancestors and offering prayer items as a way of honouring their deceased relatives.
Though Qing Ming Festival is now allowed be held, those
working outstation are lamenting that they will have to give miss it again this year as inter-zone movement in Sarawak is still not allowed.
The State Disaster Management Committee in a statement on March 17, approved tomb sweeping custom and prayer in conjunction with Qing Ming but they are subjected to strict SOP that applies throughout the MCO and its various stages.
These include the visiting of cemeteries from 4am to noon and 4am to 4pm for columbarium.
The committee allows up to eight members of a family to visit graves but only two at columbarium and memorial halls.
The elderly, children below 12 years old and individuals with chronic diseases are advised to refrain from participating in the Qing Ming customs.
The authorities are reminding the public that inter-zone visiting of cemeteries, columbarium and memorial halls is not allowed.
This includes the eight areas of Kuching, Serian, Betong, Sarikei, Sibu, Kapit, Bintulu and Miri that are still in the red zone.
Account executive Tay Kim Sing, 56, who is working in Bintulu, was hoping that he could make it home this time for Qing Ming but that was not to be now.
Tay, whose hometown is in Sibu, previously never failed to come back to visit his late father’s grave.
“I missed it last year too due to the movement control order.
“This time, crossing zones to visit cemetery is not allowed, so I will not be going home for Qing Ming, ” he said.
A motivational speaker, David Lau, 55, said he would stay put as well, in Kuching where he is based.
Like Tay, he is unable to celebrate the occasion as the graves of his father and grandparents are in Sibu.Meanwhile, restaurant operator Pang Chui Hua, who hails from Kanowit, said he would try to get a police permit to travel home from Sibu for Qing Ming.