Malaysia's National Recovery Council agrees to fully reopen borders without quarantine by March
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s National Recovery Council (NRC) has agreed to fully open the country’s borders by March to support the country’s economic recovery.
NRC chairman Muhyiddin Yassin told a press conference on Tuesday (Feb 8) that it agreed to full opening of the borders as early as Mar 1 without the need for mandatory quarantine.
“However, COVID-19 testing before departure and upon arrival at the border has to be done according to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) recommendations.
“The opening of national borders needs to be implemented in a planned manner and based on current risk assessments,” he said after chairing the NRC meeting.
Mr Muhyiddin added that the MOH would announce the full details on the requirements and the standard operating procedures of the border reopening soon.
He said that the borders would be open to all countries.
“The Minister of Health said the Omicron variant is present all over the world and in the community, so we can’t choose (to open borders to selected countries),” he said.
Mr Muhyiddin said this decision meant that the process of economic recovery could be hastened.
“This means tourists can visit, investors can come in. The number of tourists will increase, and the tourism industry can recover.
“The aviation industry can recover … and shops that depend on tourists will have increased business. We believe this decision is a good one but at the same time we have to make sure that the SOPs are adhered to,” he said.
Mr Muhyiddin, who stepped down as prime minister in August last year, was appointed chairman of NRC in September.
He had said on a programme on Astro Awani back then that he has been given the same amount of authority as when he was prime minister to make decisions for the National Recovery Plan, and that any policy decisions made by the NRC would be implemented immediately.
Currently, Malaysia’s borders are only opened to foreigners on a case-to-case basis such as emergencies, official business and other related matters.
The mandatory quarantine period is seven days for travellers who are fully vaccinated and 10 days for those who are partially or non-vaccinated.
Those who have received their booster dose have to observe a five-day quarantine period.
The country also has a quarantine-free vaccinated travel lane (VTL) arrangement with Singapore since November last year and a Langkawi international travel bubble.
The Malaysia-Singapore air VTL is between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport, while the land VTL is via the Causeway by bus.
In December, both countries froze all new ticket sales for VTL flights and buses between Dec 23 and Jan 20 amid fears of the spread of the Omicron variant. Ticket sales from Jan 21 have been capped at 50 per cent of the allocated quota.
Malaysia logged 13,944 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. The 11,000-mark was breached for the first time since Oct 1 last year with Monday’s 11,034 cases.
Although the number of daily new cases has again hit five figures, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Monday that this increase was not unexpected with the spread of the more easily-transmitted Omicron variant.
He also said that based on current mathematical models, the Omicron wave was expected to peak in the second half of March.
Since the pandemic, Malaysia has reported over 2.9 million COVID-19 cases and 32,043 deaths.
Almost 98 per cent of adults in Malaysia have been fully vaccinated, while more than 53 per cent of adults have received their booster jabs.
The vaccination programme for children aged between five and 11 began last week
FINAL DECISION TO OPEN BORDERS TO BE MADE AT CABINET: HISHAMMUDDIN
In a separate press conference, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the NRC's statement is a recommendation and not an announcement.
“This is a big decision, to reopen our borders. More so if countries that have a bilateral relationship with us don’t reciprocate and open up to our citizens.
“This has to be discussed at the Cabinet level or the COVID-19 Pandemic Management Special Committee chaired by the prime minister,” he told reporters on Tuesday evening after chairing the COVID-19 quartet ministerial meeting.
The quartet ministerial meeting involved Mr Hishammuddin as well as the ministers of health, finance, and communications and multimedia.
Mr Hishammuddin, who is also a senior minister, added that he has directed the MOH, the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to determine if it was possible to open the country's borders by the timeline mentioned by Mr Muhyiddin.
He said they do not have to follow the NRC’s timeline but have to instead make decisions by looking at the situation at the time.
"Mr Muhyiddin's recommendation was not an announcement, but a proposal based on the recovery plan.
“Whatever recommendations by this council will be brought to the Cabinet for a final decision,” he said.