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10/11/2021
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Time to reopen our borders

Sin Chew Daily

Thanks to the coronavirus lockdown enforced over the past two years, Malaysia and Singapore just a narrow straits away are like oceans apart.

But this separation is going to end very soon.

On Monday, prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong announced in a joint statement that beginning November 29, the airports of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will be open to each other, and vaccinated individuals traveling between KLIA and Singapore Changi Airport under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) program will be exempted from the mandatory house quarantine provided that they take the PCR test and test negative upon arrival at the destination airport.

Singapore transport minister S. Iswaran says his country will begin accepting VTL entry applications from Nov 22, and more details will be announced soon.

What about the two land crossings between our two countries? When will they open to travelers? According to the leaders of both countries, this will be considered in near future.

This issue is something many people living in southern Johor and Singapore are concerned about, especially workers and students from Johor who have to travel across the borders on a daily basis. Besides, businesses in JB have also been badly hit as Singapore consumers stay away.

It is time to relax the control now that both Malaysia and Singapore boast exceptionally high vaccination rates. As of Monday, some 50.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in the country at an average of 1.544 doses per person, while Singapore had administered 10.1 million doses (1.835 doses per person), both far above the global average of 0.94 doses per person.

Sure enough there are risks associated with border opening, but with travelers having been fully vaccinated and testing negative for the virus, risk of transmission should be minimal.

From the recent experience of Malaysian government lifting interstate travel restrictions, we have good reasons to believe that the two governments have made the smartest decision to open up the borders.

Reopening the borders will significantly help restore economic and commercial activities in both countries so that people living in these two countries can slowly revert to their old ways of living and be spared from the psychological agony having to be separated from their loved ones living across the border.

While continuing with the lockdown measures may help contain the pandemic, the governments must weigh the pros and cons.

From the perspectives of long-term development, the decision to reopen the borders is definitely a better and more pragmatic choice than protracted lockdown.

We do not need to worry that reopening the borders will trigger an explosive spread of the virus. What we should worry is that some transportation operators will irresponsibly maximize their load factors just to pack in as many passengers as possible due to overwhelming demand.

In the United States, the government has relaxed travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers from many countries after 20 months of lockdown, also on condition the travelers test negative for the virus upon arrival.

Leaders in Western countries are well aware that continuous lockdown will do a whole lot more harm to their economies than opening up. While Malaysia is among the countries whose citizens are allowed to enter the US, there are certain criteria to be met.

The biggest beneficiaries of border reopening will invariably be aviation, transportation companies, hotels, F&B operators, entertainment and travel-related industries which are among the worst hit due to the lockdown measures. That said, these sectors need time to crawl back from the bottom of the valley.

In 2019, Malaysia’s tourist-related industries were worth RM182.1 billion, before plummeting by a hefty 71% to RM52.4 billion last year, a shortfall equivalent to almost 9.25% of the country’s GDP.

Meanwhile, tourist arrival plunged from 26.1 million in 2019 to only 4.3 million last year.

In view of this, the government should have systematic plans to help the travel-related industries after the national borders are reopened.

Apple Vacations’ Lee San has urged the government to open up the country’s borders not just to Singapore but also other countries with high vaccination rates in a bid to expedite the recovery of the tourist industry as well as the overall economy of Malaysia.

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