Blanket ban of China’s tourists to Malaysia unnecessary


A BLANKET travel restriction on tourists from China or countries which have reported local person-to-person transmission cases of Covid-19 is deemed unnecessary, according to an expert.

Universiti Malaya’s Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Centre director Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar said travel restriction for any tourists should instead be implemented on a case-by-case basis.

He said the introduction of a travel ban similar to the measures taken during the SARS outbreak in 2003 is not needed as it should only be implemented on people who have been in direct contact with an infected patient or others who have been exposed to them.

“I may not necessarily agree with the travel restrictions imposed in 2003. The government would have the logic and reasons. Under current circumstances, I do not see any problem for anyone to come to Malaysia, unless they fall under the criteria.

“I think we should decide on a case-by-case basis and not impose a blanket restriction. I may not be privy to other information the government has,” Sazaly told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

In 2003, Malaysia fixed a temporary travel restriction on mainland Chinese and Hong Kong tourists, and tightened travel requirements on visitors from Vietnam, Taiwan and Canada — countries that were hit by the SARS epidemic the hardest.

Putrajaya also stopped issuing visas to mainland Chinese citizens and barred indigenous Hong Kong residents, who could obtain visas on arrival, from entering. Canadian and Vietnamese nationals were then required to apply for visas and they had to produce a medical statement proving them free from SARS.

Taiwanese, however, were not required to produce such a medical certificate, but were subjected to stricter clearance procedures for visas.

Sazaly said there is no reason to stop someone from coming to Malaysia just because their country has local person-to-person coronavirus transmissions.

“For example, Vietnam is big. If the virus spreads in northern Vietnam, how could we ban everyone from the whole country?” he said.

At present, Malaysia has added two new Chinese Provinces, Zhejiang and Jiangsu, on the country’s travel ban list besides Hubei.

Sabah and Sarawak — the two states which have autonomy in immigration laws — have refused Chinese tourists and other foreigners with travel history to China from entering the states.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad conveyed Malaysia’s solidarity and steadfast support for China to President Xi Jinping last week in an over 30-minute telephone conversation, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The two leaders agreed on the necessity for concerted effort and Dr Mahathir referred to the joint move to be undertaken by Asean and China to bring the situation under control, Wisma Putra said in a statement last week.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke (picture) previously said the government had no plan to ban cruise or cargo ships from docking at the country’s ports, unlike measures taken by several other nations.

To date, many countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand and India, have imposed stricter forms of travel ban against foreigners from China compared to Malaysia.

Bernama reported that China’s aviation authority, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), has expressed hope that certain countries would follow the advice of international organisations and lift travel bans as early as possible to facilitate cross-border journeys.

According to Xinhua news agency, the CAAC official Liang Nan had reportedly said China’s civil aviation sector is willing to work with other countries and take strict epidemic control measures to safeguard the health of passengers.

Sazaly said one of the most important matters is, the public must get the right information on coronavirus from the right sources. He said the public must know the precautionary measures needed when they come in contact with a person who they suspect infected with the virus.

Additionally, the expert said community leaders, including religious leaders, must be educated about the virus to enable them to relay the correct information to the rest and avoid misinformation.

He said the country must be prudent and vigilant, including for health workers in small towns who might underestimate the reach of the coronavirus epidemic.

“I think we need to emphasise the need for doctors and nurses in smaller clinics and hospitals in the periphery of the country to be more vigilant and alert. They might think the virus may not come to their area, but actually, it could even be in a small town in Terengganu,” the expert said.