Experts: Pros outweigh cons in border reopening

by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK / pic by TMR FILE

THE economic benefits of reopening Malaysia’s borders for international travel at this time far outweigh the risks as long as strict precautions are maintained.

Malaysia is on the cusp of allowing international travel as the country’s vaccination level among the population approaches the 90% threshold.

The move would mean major economic contributors like the tourism sector can finally come to life after two years, but all other businesses will also benefit, economic and health experts said.

Centre for Market Education CEO Dr Carmelo Ferlito said it would be the biggest push forward for the economy.

“It will have a tremendous psychological impact, sending out the signal that we are going back to normal,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said there will be an obvious tourism rebound as there is pent-up demand for travel, especially among those who can still afford to buy a ticket after the pandemic.

“We have seen this, for example, in the Mediterranean destinations which were open during the past summer for European travellers: The impact has been impressive. “But the long-lasting effect (of the reopening) will be on business opportunities.” Ferlito said businesses have been “on hold” for a very long time as it has been very difficult to conduct significant business transactions or negotiations online.

“Open borders will mean the possibility for business partners to meet, plan and invest again, and it is very much important that world leaders coordinate this opening effort.” 

Ferlito said the only caveat, however, is that global opening must be coordinated worldwide. He said there would need to be further clarifications on travel policies to make it simpler for travellers.

“This means that if I am allowed to leave Malaysia for a business trip or a vacation, but I am not allowed to enter the country which I want to reach or the paperwork to do so is too troublesome, then those expectations will be frustrated and the expected rebound will have its wings cut.

“The same goes with reference to the vaccine certificates,” he said.

Currently, there are questions surrounding the Malaysian vaccination certificate and which countries will accept them.

“Will there be some sort of paperwork which is necessary once one reaches the destination country?

“This could discourage international travels,” Ferlito pointed out.

He said non-acceptance of certain vaccines by governments is also an issue.

“For example, European Union countries do not recognise Sinovac and this is a serious issue for Malaysians who wish to travel there as almost half of Malaysians have been vaccinated with Sinovac.

“So, I guess that beyond the vaccination target and the goodwill from the government, there are some diplomatic and bureaucratic issues that need to be taken care of, and work for international diplomacy.”

Despite the need for more fine-tuning of policies needed, health experts said a reopening would go well and this is a step forward from the lockdowns and restrictions that have taken place in the country.

Osel Group chief clinical and innovative scientist Dr Kris See said travelling in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic is indeed challenging.

“Balancing the need for travel with the risk of infection is a delicate measure.

“I think travellers would first and foremost need to be fully vaccinated and PCR testing needs to be done for international travellers prior to leaving the country and upon touching down in the country of destination.”

He said mandatory quarantines, whether at government facilities or at home, must be enforced.

“Travellers should also consider getting their seasonal influenza vaccination as a second layer of protection.”

Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur internal medicine specialist Dr Helmy Haja Mydin said Malaysia has reached a stage where indefinite lockdowns are counterproductive.

“The reopening of various sectors of the economy is not a licence to be complacent — if anything it means we need to be even more alert and take the necessary risk-mitigation measures to reduce the chances of contracting Covid-19.”

He said quick testing and isolation should be common practice if Covid-19-like symptoms are discovered, even without official instruction.

“Mostly, just practise common sense,” he said.

According to the latest edition of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s World Tourism Barometer, an estimated 54 million tourists crossed international borders in July 2021, down 67% from the same month in 2019, but the strongest results since April 2020.

This compares to an estimated 34 million international arrivals recorded in July 2020, though well below the 164 million figure recorded in 2019.

The report noted that most destinations reporting data for June and July 2021 saw a moderate rebound in international arrivals compared to 2020, while 2021 continues to be a challenging year for global tourism, with international arrivals down 80% in January-July compared to 2019.

Asia and the Pacific continued to suffer the weakest results in the period January to July, with a 95% drop in international arrivals compared to 2019.