In normal years, Aidiladha or the Feast of Sacrifice in Sarawak is a noisy affair as animals are rounded up for slaughter as part of traditional sacrificial rites.
The meat is then shared out among the less fortunate, many of whom only eat such food once a year thanks to the generosity of others.
This year, though, celebrations in Sarawak are decidedly muted as daily Covid-19 cases throughout the country continue in the five-figure range and fears of the more transmissible Delta variant haunt the Bornean state.
Religious authorities had also announced a ban on animal sacrifices as part of efforts to discourage large gatherings which could spark a series of new clusters.
This, coupled with the continued closure of state and district borders, has taken a heavy toll on small-time animal farmers such as Syed Razuan Syed Ali.
Syed Razuan, who comes from Kuching, said his sales had plummeted by about 90%.
“We were already having a difficult time when the state announced that people were not allowed to participate in the sacrificial rites,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“Such restrictions have placed many small livestock farmers like us in a deeper financial crisis.
“We had products ready for sale, but with all these restrictions, small livestock traders like us cannot breathe because we do not have the capacity to accommodate more animals.”
It’s not just the farmers who are feeling the pinch, he said. Everyone involved in the sale of the animals, including producers, local traders, transporters and exporters, has been affected as well.
But with the highly transmissible Delta strain already detected in the state, such constraints may be set to stay for a while more.
Just on Wednesday, Sarawak health authorities said another 76 cases of the variant had been detected, bringing the total number of Delta cases discovered since mid-June to 93.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah previously warned that variants such as the Delta strain could spread in just 15 seconds through airborne transmission.
“The Rt (infectivity rate) of a normal virus is between 2.5 and 3, but that of the Delta variant and other variants that we have identified is between 5 and 8. That means if 100 people are infected, the virus can spread to 500 to 800 people in a short period,” he said.
And with the Covid-19 crisis still hammering at the economy, small-time traders such as Syed Razuan are increasingly at the short end of the stick.
Livestock prices have experienced a drastic drop, to the point where farmers are barely able to cover their basic necessities.
At Syed Razuan’s farm in Matang, some 20km away from Kuching, about 300 cattle and sheep are still waiting to be sold. With prices so bad, they might remain there indefinitely – and this is not cheap.
“To raise a sheep costs us about RM600 a day,” he said. This does not include medication, salaries for workers, or logistics.
Demand, too, is a problem.
“Many customers had to cancel their bookings for livestock for this year’s sacrificial rites after the announcement was made,” he said. “Almost 90% of them cancelled.”
Now, he is depending on the few customers he has left.
“But this will take a few days because of restrictions,” he added. “We are struggling now.”