2:13pm 10/02/2022
Time to reopen our borders

Sin Chew Daily

National recovery council chairman Muhyiddin Yassin proposed on Tuesday to reopen the country’s borders from March 1. That, nevertheless, was only a proposal, and defense ministry senior minister Hishammuddin Hussein said this would have to be decided by the cabinet.

Hishammuddin also said the health, tourism ministries as well as immigration department had been instructed to study the NRC’s proposal whether to reopen national borders and exempt visitors from mandatory quarantine from March 1.

Muhyiddin has said the border reopening will not be confined to specific nations, as the Omicron variant has now spread to the entire world. However, he says visitors will still need to take COVID-19 tests prior to departure and upon arrival in Malaysia as per the health ministry’s requirement.

As expected, the proposal to reopen national borders has drawn polarized views from the Malaysian public.

The opponents think that Omicron is ready to strike anytime, and with daily new infections now above 10k, the whole country should be on high alert. The government has just urged the private sector to reinitiate WFH while some have called for home learning for students. It is therefore just not the time to reopen our borders when both the government and the people are busy fighting the virus.

The opponents, meanwhile, feel that the number of ICU and severe cases at this moment is very low, showing that the pandemic situation is largely under control, and as such reopening the borders is absolutely necessary for economic recovery. Endless lockdowns will only hurt businesses relying on tourists such as travel industry, aviation, transportation, hotels, F&B, malls and retailers, and some cities like Johor Bahru may also find it difficult to sustain. Business closures are no longer isolated cases in this country and the longer we close our borders, the more businesses will suffer.

We believe that once a person has received the booster dose, his immunity will be 3.4 times higher than those who have received only two doses of the vaccine. With that, there is no such necessity to keep shutting our borders to foreigners, so long as the SOPs are strictly adhered to.

We used to lure 26.11 million foreign visitors prior to the pandemic in 2019. The number nevertheless plummeted to 4.33 million in 2020. We can imagine how miserable economic sectors and cities that depend heavily on tourists for survival will get. The conditional implementation of VTL scheme late last year could be seen as a “green channel” to prepare us for a full reopening.

Actually, Muhyiddin had in last November proposed to fully reopen the country’s borders in January. So, even if we reopen in March, it is already a two-month delay. With the introduction of VTL and liberalization of pilgrimage travels, a full reopening of borders has become an inevitable trend and there shouldn’t be any more delay.

We have wasted two whole years fighting the virus – from being completely clueless at the beginning with frequent policy reversals on the part of the government, we have today emerged as a star performer in the global war against the virus, with enviably high vaccination rate and a mortality rate as low as 0.06%. Our efforts have paid off!

What is the purpose of battling the virus? Isn’t it to get the day-to-day lives of Malaysians and business operations back to normal as soon as possible for a full recovery?

We don’t actually have to follow the zero tolerance policy of some countries because the price is too high for us and it is also both impractical and unachievable. As such, we have come to a point to smartly weigh between the pros and cons of opening up or locking down.

Hishammuddin says the government has completed the transition to endemic phase, and has set seven new benchmarks for the new phase. What we have to do now is to strictly conform to the guidelines set by the government.

So long as we fully cooperate with the government, there isn’t a virus that we cannot get rid of.




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