Malaysia reacted quickly to the threat of COVID-19 and despite an early surge in cases have managed to control the outbreak in the most part. In this article we look at how Malaysia have dealt with COVID-19 and the impact on tourists and tourism.
This article was updated on 2nd September.
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The first case in Malaysia was confirmed on 25th January when a number of travellers arrived in the country from Singapore. Cases were confined to a few arrivals from foreign countries until late February / early March when the first cases of internal transmission were confirmed. Infection quickly spread during March with more than 2,000 cases reported by the end of the month.
Malaysia has recorded 136 deaths from 11,771 confirmed cases (2nd October). They have reported 10,095 have recovered. The latest statistics are available on our COVID-19 and South East Asia page.
The Response from Malaysia
Malaysia work in preparation for a possible outbreak started as early as December 2019 as word spread of the emerging outbreak in Wuhan. Hospitals were put on stand-by and emergency response plans were made ready for implementation. However their response was not always so good, a large outbreak in March was linked to a religious festival held near Kuala Lumpur and the Malaysian failure to ban mass gatherings. There were also political issues taking place in Malaysia that is reported to have affected the response and communications with the public.
On 16th March Malaysia implemented the Movement Control Order (MCO) which prohibited mass gatherings and closed all educational establishments, businesses and government departments apart from essential services and shops. They also stopped foreign visitors from entering the country and any Malaysians returning to the country were required to undergo health checks and self-quarantine for 14 days. Originally proposed as a short-term measure until the end of March, the MCO lasted until 9th June. The lockdown in Malaysia was strictly enforced. Only one person per family was allowed to leave their home for essential shopping and outside exercise was banned.
Unlike in the West, where asymptomatic people were generally asked to self-isolate, all positive cases in Malaysia were hospitalised.
The Current Situation
On 10th June the government implemented the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), planned to last until 31st August.
The RMCO allowed a number of religious activities to resume, although with a number of conditions including initially a maximum of 40 attendees. A number of cultural and tourist activities were allowed to restart from 1st July, with restrictions, educational establishments could start to re-open and leisure activities could begin to operate again, including cinemas, gyms and swimming pools.
Further restrictions were lifted on 15th July when family entertainment centres could start to re-open.
Internal travel was allowed within Malaysia, apart from certain controlled areas, from 10th June. A reciprocal agreement has been made with Singapore to allow cross border traffic from 10th August.
Malaysia is one of the current countries listed as exempt from FCO advice against all non-essential travel, and people returning from Malaysia are also exempt from the requirement to self-isolate on return
However on 1st September it was announced that the RMCO was being extended until 31st December 2020 meaning that entry to the country is effectively blocked to tourists until 2021.
TTG Asia reported that senior minister (security cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob said, “For now, Malaysia is not ready to open our borders to foreign tourists. Even between Malaysia and Singapore, we only allow people from two categories (to travel), including our citizens who had been stranded in Singapore.
“The other category is for those (from Singapore) who are permitted to enter Malaysia for business-to-business purposes, such as attending meetings in Kuala Lumpur.
“Opening our border to tourists from other countries is the last thing we will look into. Apart from requests from restaurant workers from Thailand and domestic workers from Indonesia (to enter the country), we also received a request from AirAsia (to allow commercial air travel).
“At the moment, Malaysia will not grant approval to any of the requests.
Malaysia and Singapore began allowing limited cross-border travel between the two countries from 17th August. Prior to the lockdown more than 300,000 people would cross the border each day.
Two new schemes will allow limited travel between the two countries. The Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) allows up to 14 days stay for essential business and official purposes. The Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) allows residents of both countries who hold valid work passes to travel between the countries.
There will be strict health and visa requirements including pre-departure COVID-19 tests and self-quarantine.
The economy was hit particularly due to China being Malaysia’s largest trading partner, with trade being severely affected earlier than many countries experienced and may have a long-term impact depending on the Chinese recovery. The tourist industry, again China was the main market, is also a major factor in the success of the economy and its closure has a deep impact.
On 27th March, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced the “caring package” designed to help the economy weather the effects of Covid-19 including protecting people affecting economically by the pandemic. The support package was worth RM250 billion (>£49 billion). Additional funding was also provided for the purchase of equipment and hiring of key staff for hospitals and to individual states to support local issues.
An additioonal RM10 (>£1.9 billion)billion was announced on 6th April to support SME’s and on 5th June RM9 billion (>£1.7 billion) to address increasing unemployment rates.
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Do you have any experience of how Malaysia or other South-East Asian countries reacted to Covid-19 or where you in country at the time of the outbreak. Let us know your thoughts and experiences.
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