Malaysia registered more than 4.3 million tourist arrivals in the first 6 months of 2020 which represented a decrease of more than 68% on 2019. Tourist expenditure in the first six months was RM12.5 billion (approx £2.3 billion, $3 billion) down almost 70% from RM41.6 billion (approx £7.8 billion, $10 billion) in 2019.
The biggest tourist markets for Malaysia are traditionally Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand, India, Brunei and South Korea, all markets with their own lockdowns and COVID related issues.
For more information on how Malaysia has dealt with COVID-19 see our post Malaysia and the Battle Against COVID-19.
We have also looked at the options throughout South East Asia in our post South East Asia, Open for Travel?
Malaysia and COVID-19
Malaysia reacted quickly to the threat of COVID-19, having begun their planning as early as December 2019 as the situation in China began to emerge.
The first case recorded in Malaysia was at the end of January but there was not a significant increase in cases until March when the number of cases topped 2,000.
Significant measures were introduced on 16th March when the Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented which prohibited foreign tourists entering the country and also banned mass gatherings and closed all educational establishments, businesses and government departments apart from essential services and shops.
On 10th June the MCO was replaced by the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO). This initially allowed a number of religious activities to resume (with restrictions). From 1st July a number of cultural and tourist activities were allowed to restart including cinemas, gyms and swimming pools. Restrictions continued to be lifted later in July when family entertainment centres could re-open.
At the present time Malaysia has reported 11,771 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 136 deaths.
For the latest COVID figures please see our post COVID-19 and South East Asia.
Opening the Borders
Malaysia currently prohibits entry into the country to the vast majority of foreign nationals.
Following an announcement on 1st September extending the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) until 31st December 2020, it is highly unlikely that widespread foreign tourism will be allowed into Malaysia until 2021.
Since 1st July, Malaysia has allowed medical tourists from Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea under certain conditions including:
- Visitors must undergo a COVID-19 test prior to departure and upon arrival in Malaysia, testing negative in both cases.
- Visitors contact the Malaysia Health Ministry and register with the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC)
- The visitor would be expected to check directly into the hospital or clinic where they would also undertake quarantine
- Visitors must download the MySejahtera app
Prior to lockdown there were more than 300,000 people crossing the border each day between Singapore and Malaysia. From 17th August there have been two arrangements in place with Singapore. The Reciprocal Green Lane allows travel for essential business and official purpose. The Periodic Commuting Arrangement allows residents with long-term immigration passes for business or work to occasionally return home for short periods.
Long term pass holders can now apply for entry into Malaysia (since 11th September). These tend to be spouses of Malaysian citizens, student pass holders and permanent residents. There is no guarantee of entry and need to apply through the Malaysian Immigration Department.
Some hope for foreign tourism in Malaysia was raised recently when Tourism Malaysia Director-General, Datuk Musa Yusof, being reported as stating that “From the tourism point of view, hopefully, we should see some movement by the first quarter of next year. This is what I mean by green travel bubbles. As an example, Malaysia and Singapore have allowed cross-border travel already, but for essential services only, and not for leisure yet. If this goes well, and no untoward issues arise, God willing, leisure [travel] will begin.”
The initial focus is likely to be near-neighbours with Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand all mentioned as countries who could see some leisure travel.
Transit through Malaysia
Transit through Malaysia is allowed if you have a connecting flight through Kuala Lumpur Airport, remain air-side and do not need to transit between terminals.
Internal travel and tourism was allowed, with restrictions, from 10th June as the country attempted to provide some respite to the tourist industry. Restrictions have been gradually eased in the following months.
Don and Vic are two Australians travelling throughout South East Asia who found themselves stranded in Malaysia as lockdown started. More than 100 days later they are still there. Read their story in Don and Viks’ COVID Adventure.
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