Malaysia May Not Reopen to Visitors Until 2021

The tourism minister has confirmed that entry restrictions will remain in force to stave off a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

A view of Malacca’s Dutch Square and the 18th-century Christ Church. (Photo: Tourism Malaysia)

Anyone outside Malaysia hoping to visit Penang, Malacca, or Sabah will likely have to put those plans on hold for another six months. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Malaysia’s Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Nancy Shukri says the country may only allow international travelers starting in the second quarter of 2021. She told Nikkei journalists that recent coronavirus surges in countries once considered to be Covid-safe had forced a rethink of the current strategy, and Malaysia was redrafting the list of places with which travel bubbles could be set up in the future.

Earlier this month, Nancy told the Malaysian Parliament her ministry was looking at restarting travel with “green zone” destinations instead of whole countries. She gave the example of Perth in Western Australia, and said the major Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne meant the entirety of Australia could not be declared a green zone. However, she added that reciprocity was a prerequisite before such arrangements could be made. “If we only identify them as green zones and want to work with them, then they too have to open their borders to us in Malaysia,” Nancy said, as quoted by The Malay Mail.

But the Malaysian health ministry suggests it is too soon to resume general international travel. At a press conference this week, its director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah told reporters that the priority should be on tightening border controls rather than easing restrictions given the worsening situation abroad. “We are seeing an increase in imported cases here,” Noor explained. “We are also concerned about countries such as South Korea, which once upon a time managed to keep their cases under control. They have just reported 2,600 cases within 10 days. We are also seeing the same thing in Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.”

Statistics from Tourism Malaysia’s online data portal show that Singaporeans accounted for nearly 40 percent of all visitor arrivals into Malaysia last year. The Lion City was easily the top source of foreign tourists, surpassing 10.16 million and far outstripping the numbers from Indonesia, the next-biggest contributor with 3.62 million arrivals.

While the spread of Covid-19 in Indonesia shows no signs of slowing down—with the country posting a record high of 2,719 confirmed cases only yesterday—Singapore has successfully brought a large-scale outbreak in its migrant worker dormitories firmly under control. The recent launch of the Reciprocal Green Lane arrangement, allowing for limited quarantine-free travel between Malaysia and Singapore, marks a significant first step in restoring Malaysia’s links with its largest source of visitors.

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