Malaysia is negotiating with neighbours Singapore and Brunei for freer movement between the countries to mitigate the economic harm from border controls introduced to contain Covid-19, according to Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
The Health director-general told Bloomberg in an interview that Malaysia has also tapped countries with low Covid-19 cases such as Australia and New Zealand for possible participation in the scheme to establish “green lanes” with fewer restrictions for their citizens.
Currently, countries still impose a mandatory quarantine period for non-citizen arrivals.
“This is in planning but we have not allowed any country yet,” Dr Noor Hisham was quoted as saying.
“It must be mutual; some issues must be ironed out by both countries before we can allow the green lane or green bubble.”
International travel remains one of the biggest risks to countries’ efforts against Covid-19, as demonstrated recently in New Zealand.
The country’s elation in becoming completely free of Covid-19 earlier this month lasted only days before two visitors from the UK reintroduced the virus there.
New Zealand now has 16 active cases and has begun introducing stricter border controls.
On June 19, Senior minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Malaysia has provisionally approved automatic entry for Singaporean nationals without requiring Covid-19 testing or quarantine provided this was reciprocated.
However, Singapore Foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said this week that his country preferred a gradual return to cross-border movement with Malaysia.
Commuting between Malaysia and Singapore is important to both countries’ economies.
While Dr Noor Hisham previously advocated strongly for strict border controls, he conceded that a return to some normalcy for visitor arrivals was essential to the country’s economic recovery.
Malaysia has also agreed to a partial resumption of medical tourism but was limiting this to only patients with critical illnesses.
The economic toll of measures taken to contain Covid-19 in Malaysia was already manifest, with unemployment spiking in the months the movement control order was strictest while surveys have also reported significant disruptions to work life and pay levels in the country.
Yesterday, the World Bank projected that Malaysia’s economy would contract 3.1 per cent this year versus last year’s 4.3 per cent growth, effectively a 7.4 percentage point swing towards the negative.
“If we can handle the pandemic as soon as possible, then the economy can actually continue and livelihoods can continue,” Dr Noor Hisham said.
Yesterday, the Health D-G reported six more Covid-19 cases in the country for a total of 8,606 on record. Five of the six were imported.