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Malaysia further relaxes COVID-19 restrictions in bid to revive economy

KUALA LUMPUR (XINHUA) – Malaysia opened its borders to international travel yesterday, ending restrictions that have been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

Among measures adopted by Malaysian authorities to facilitate the travel of non-Malaysian nationals to the country are the abolishing quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers, with only a pre-departure test and a test within 24-hours of arriving in Malaysia.

There is already optimism that the move into the endemic phase will see economic recovery, especially for the country’s hard hit tourist sector which has been largely closed off.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Nancy Shukri said over 10,000 foreign travellers and Malaysians residing abroad are expected to arrive at airports nationwide on Friday alone and the ministry is targetting over two million tourist arrivals within the year.

“After two years, today is a historic moment and a huge relief for our tourism industry as we welcome international tourists, newcomers and regulars alike, back to Malaysia, supporting our economy again,” she told reporters at an event to mark the re-opening at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Malaysia attracted 4.3 million tourists in 2020 because of lockdowns following the COVID-19 pandemic, a sharp decline from the 26.1 million in 2019.

Separately, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong noted the influx of travellers moving across the bridge connecting Malaysia and Singapore, allowing families to reunite ahead of Ramadhan, the Islamic fasting month, and Qingming, a traditional tomb-sweeping festival.

“Some were on motorcycles or in cars, and some even walked. This is the result of good discussions between the Malaysian and Singaporean governments to benefit the people of both countries,” he said in a statement.

“However, everyone is reminded to always take care of the health and safety of yourself and your loved ones. This is the first step towards a normal life,” he cautioned.

The relaxed standard operating procedures (SOPs) and other measures, while welcome, must not mean that caution is thrown to the wind, according to Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) President Koh Kar Chai.

“As everyone is either preparing to travel or to receive visitors from abroad due to the opening of our international borders from today, the public is reminded that we are still in the pandemic phase of COVID-19. The borders have been opened not because we are free from disease but because we need to revive our economy,” he told Xinhua in a phone interview.

He added that the coming weeks and months would be important, with health authorities being expected to keep a close eye on the rate of hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases and the incidence of severe cases which are warning signs to look out for.

Malaysia reported 18,560 new COVID-19 infections as of midnight on Thursday, bringing the national total to 4,201,919, according to the health ministry. A further 44 deaths have been reported, bringing the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 34,983.