KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia has updated its Covid-19 testing requirements for international and local travellers arriving in the country under three travel schemes.
Those using the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) by air and land, the Langkawi International Travel Bubble (LITB), and the One Stop Centre (OSC) for short-term business visitors will have to undergo additional Covid-19 tests for six days after arriving in Malaysia.
The new requirement will also apply to travellers from Singapore.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the requirement, which will take effect from today, aims to strengthen the Ministry of Health's existing precautionary and control measures to prevent the transmission and spread of the Omicron variant in the country.
Under existing procedures, VTL travellers undergo a professionally-administered Covid-19 detection test on arrival in Malaysia - a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for those arriving by air, and the antigen rapid test kit (RTK-Ag) for those arriving by land.
Under the new rules, travellers will have to undergo additional tests after their arrival. These consist of a self-administered RTK-Ag test on the second, fourth and sixth day after their arrival, and a professionally-administered RTK-Ag test on the third and fifth day after arriving.
Mr Khairy said those travellers must also ensure that they are fully vaccinated and must undergo RT-PCR tests 48 hours prior to their travel dates, shortened from the earlier requirement set at 72 hours before departure, reported national news agency Bernama.
Additionally, those using the LITB must undergo an RT-PCR test at least 48 hours before leaving Langkawi island.
Mr Khairy said all test results must be reported through Malaysia's Covid-19 tracing app MySejahtera.
Ms Melissa Lee, 36, who works in the banking industry in Singapore, said she is planning to travel to Kuala Lumpur via the Air VTL on Dec 15, to visit her parents and spend time with friends after being away from Malaysia for two years.
Ms Lee, a Singapore permanent resident who has worked in the country for about a decade, said the new daily testing rules will be an added inconvenience and increase her travel costs, but will not deter her from making the trip home.
"I'm just glad that the Singapore and Malaysia authorities are still pressing ahead with the VTL instead of pausing it, and I feel the new testing measures are a good precaution, because even as I return home and roam freely, I'll be able to have peace of mind that I'm Covid-free," she said.
"Even with the added costs, travelling home will be worth it because it's my first time flying home in two years."
Ms Hee Xin Wei, 24, who works in a healthcare software company in Singapore, said that although the added daily tests increase the long list of travel requirements, it will not deter her from travel as long as the VTL remains open.
She is hoping to return home for two weeks during Chinese New Year next year, having not been home to Penang since Chinese New Year in 2020.
"After waiting for so long to return, I'm happy to abide by any measures as long as they help to ensure the VTL can proceed," she said.
"I see it as the authorities trying to be safe, and as long as the VTL is not cancelled, I am happy with how things are."
Ms Hee added that the daily antigen rapid tests do not feel like much of an added inconvenience compared with the other paperwork, planning and pre-departure tests that she has to go through before travelling home.
Meanwhile, Mr Khairy said travellers from five countries with reported cases of Omicron in the community, namely Britain, the United States, Australia, France and Norway, will be required to get tested with an RT-PCR swab test 48 hours before departing for Malaysia.
He added that these travellers will also be required to use a digital tracking device on them at all times during their mandatory quarantine period.
Mr Khairy said travellers - including Malaysian citizens and long-term visit pass holders - arriving from the eight countries under the temporary travel ban must also use a digital tracking device at the designated isolation centres during their 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
The eight countries on temporary travel restrictions are South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Mr Khairy added that the preventive measures will be reviewed from time to time.
As of Tuesday, 43 countries have reported Omicron-related cases.
The Omicron variant was detected last Thursday in Ipoh, in a 19-year-old South African private university student who had arrived from South Africa via Singapore on Nov 19.
- Additional reporting by Ng Keng Gene