VTL should remain with strict SOPs despite Omicron

Emergence of Omicron would mean that the VTL between Indonesia and Malaysia would proceed with caution


THE vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Malaysia and Singapore should remain, but more precautionary measures should be implemented amid rising Omicron cases worldwide.

The government has also proposed another VTL with Indonesia, which is expected to open early next year once several technical issues have been resolved.

The proposed routes include Kuala Lumpur (KL)-Bali and KL-Jakarta.

Sunway University Business School professor of economics Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the VTL between Malaysia and Singapore is a positive move towards normalising the movement of people between the two countries, especially given that both countries have many foreign workers.

“The other one is of course it also helps to enable Malaysia (to conduct) the recruitment of foreign workers who are very much in need now with the shortages in many labour-intensive industries, particularly in agriculture, construction and some of the manufacturing and services industries,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Since the proposed routes to Indonesia are to Bali and Jakarta, they would largely be limited for both business and tourism.

Tourism may not normalise very quickly, but the VTL would act as an avenue for those that need to travel.

However, the emergence of the new Omicron variant would mean that the VTL between Indonesia and Malaysia would proceed with caution.

“I think the authorities are likely doing it gradually and then in the case of Malaysia, we are in a better position to face an eventual check from a resurgent event now that most of the population have been vaccinated,” said Yeah.

“For those who are in transit from these infected countries that have high cases or incidences of Omicron, perhaps they should undergo a quarantine period.

“They may need to undergo a mandatory quarantine period before they can be allowed to travel under the VTL.”

Malaysia recorded another Omicron case involving an eight-year old citizen who had stayed in Lagos, Nigeria, with her family, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar revealed yesterday.

Khairy announced that additional standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been outlined to curb the spread of the variant. Travellers returning from the UK must perform daily self tests throughout the quarantine period and report the test results using the MySejahtera app.

He said more high-risk countries would be announced and travellers from these countries will have to wear a digital tracking device throughout their quarantine period.

Khairy said Nigeria has been added to the list of high-risk countries, alongside the US, Denmark, Australia, France, Norway, India and Canada.

Bernama reported Senior International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali as saying that the government plans to increase the daily quota for Malaysian and Singapore citizens travelling through the land VTL facility to 2,100 people each way, pending the countries’ Covid-19 situation.

He said the government is constantly monitoring the current health situation, adding that the Health Ministry would provide appropriate advice related to Covid-19.

Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Dr Afzanizam Abdul Rashid believes the VTL between Malaysia and Indonesia would be positive for both the countries’ economies in general.

“My issue is always about the emergence of the new virus, meaning, whether it will cause any (outbreak) suddenly that we need to impose another order of lockdown because of the new variants,” he told TMR.

A lockdown would have a severe impact towards the economy.

“We saw that happen during the second quarter of last year (2Q20), 4Q20 and the recent quarter, whereby the economy contracted again 4.5%,” he explained.

Afzanizam hopes VTL travellers would conduct frequent testing, so that any potential risks can be discovered quickly.

“I think the impact to the tourism sector, of course, is that more economic activities will be reopened, which will translate into more GDP, but it’s not going to be straightforward.

“Bank Negara Malaysia has mentioned in the 1Q21 of the GDP announcement, one of the key risks, one of the key downside is that obviously about the latest variants and of course, the possible imposition of the Movement Control Order,” he warned.