Embassies heighten efforts to help citizens return to home countries

Malaysia has one of the highest tourist numbers in the region prior to the disease outbreak — 2nd only to Thailand

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by ARIF KARTONO

FOREIGN residents and international travellers in Malaysia are relying on advisories issued by their embassies in Kuala Lumpur (KL) as the global efforts to contain the coronavirus become more stringent.

Many governments worldwide have completely sealed their borders from foreign visitors and have urged citizens abroad to remain where they are as the pandemic worsens.

Latest figures show there are about 117,000 expatriates in Malaysia. The country also had one of the highest tourist numbers in the region prior to the disease outbreak, with over 20 million visitors for the first nine months of last year — second only to Thailand with 39.8 million visitors.

Many international travellers in Malaysia have been advised to return to their home countries prior to the enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18.

The movement curb has since witnessed full lockdowns in critical areas, travel restrictions and the closure of many businesses.

International travel has also become increasingly challenging. Although commercial flights are still allowed to operate in Malaysia, there is a ban on entry to foreign travellers which forces many airlines to cancel their flights as planes had zero passengers on board.

British High Commissioner to Malaysia Charles Hay (picture; right) said the High Commission is closely following the air travel development and the MCO in Malaysia.

“My team at the High Commission and I are currently providing British travellers in Malaysia the relevant information to help them make decisions on their respective travel plans.

“We are also working with airlines to ensure that there are commercial options for British travellers to fly home,” Hay told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

Airlines that continue to offer flights from KL to London include Malaysia Airlines Bhd, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.

Hay said many British travellers have returned home after the UK government issued an advisory for its citizens who are travelling abroad to return to the UK.

“We are not aware of any British travellers in Malaysia who wish to return but cannot do so,” he said.

Some 360,000 British tourists visited Malaysia last year, which roughly translates to about 30,000 British tourists per month on a normal day.

British citizens with work permits or a long-term social pass in Malaysia, on the other hand, are advised to stay in the country and adhere to the host government’s advice.

There are up to 8,000 British nationals currently residing in Malaysia who are working in sectors like education, financial services, oil and gas, engineering, tourism and environmental conservation.

The US Embassy has also issued similar notices, advising travelling Americans to immediately return to the US while commercial flights remain an option.

“While we are monitoring flight options, we realise that this is a fluid situation, and encourage travellers to be in touch directly with airlines as flights could change with very little notice,” a US Embassy spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said the embassy has also reduced in-person staffing as part of efforts to help flatten the curve. Consular services, including the issuance of visas, have been temporarily suspended under the MCO.

Meanwhile, according to Japan information service director Mitsuhiko Sugita, the Japanese Embassy has asked its citizens in Malaysia to abide by restrictions under the MCO and to closely collaborate with local authorities to overcome Covid-19. Based on its survey, there are 24,411 Japanese citizens in Malaysia as of November 2017.

About half of Japanese companies in Malaysia are in the manufacturing sector, particularly in the production of electrical and electronics items.