Malaysia bars travellers from Hubei province

Visitors outside the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya on Sunday. The Malaysian government closed the mosque to visitors starting from Sunday, following the coronavirus outbreak. It has also halted entry to the country for Chinese travellers from Hubei provi
Visitors outside the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya on Sunday. The Malaysian government closed the mosque to visitors starting from Sunday, following the coronavirus outbreak. It has also halted entry to the country for Chinese travellers from Hubei province after criticism from Malaysians that it had not done enough.PHOTO: BERNAMA

Malaysia will temporarily bar Chinese travellers from Hubei province and its capital Wuhan city, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said yesterday, after heavy criticism from Malaysians who wanted the government to ban the entry of all Chinese tourists due to fears over the Wuhan coronavirus.

"Based on the latest information, the Malaysian government has decided to temporarily suspend the eNTRY (no visa), visa on arrival, e-visa and manual visas to Chinese citizens from Wuhan and Hubei," the PMO said in a statement.

"This decision was made after taking into account the latest developments on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China, particularly in Hubei, and it is effective immediately," it added.

Citizens of China are normally required to apply for visas to enter Malaysia. But tourists from China and India have been granted 15-day visa-free entry, called eNTRY, for the whole of this year, in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2020, provided they register via Malaysia's electronic travel registration and information system in their respective countries.

The decision to bar those from Wuhan and Hubei comes following criticism over Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's initial reluctance to bar tourists from China from entering the country, although Malaysia's closest neighbours have also not taken this step.

More than 380,000 people signed a petition on change.org asking the government to stop all mainland Chinese tourists at the border.

Former premier Najib Razak and the Crown Prince of Johor have both attacked Tun Dr Mahathir on Facebook, condemning him for allowing the continued entry of tourists from China.

Malaysia confirmed its first four cases of the coronavirus last Saturday from four tourists from Wuhan city who had crossed into Malaysia from Singapore. As of yesterday, five more patients, all of whom are Chinese nationals including two children in Langkawi, were suspected of having contracted the virus and have been placed in isolation pending test results.

Meanwhile, the government closed the pink-domed Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, a must-see sight in Malaysia's administrative capital, to visitors beginning on Sunday, following the coronavirus outbreak.

The PMO statement yesterday insisted that the government has followed all procedures recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and obtained advice from experts on how to contain the spread of the disease.

Tourists from China totalled 2.4 million in the January to September period last year, the third biggest number of visitors after Singaporeans and Indonesians, government data showed. Malaysia's tourist arrivals stood at 20.1 million in the first nine months of last year.

Malaysian police have, meanwhile, warned that they will take stern action against those who spread fake news over the Wuhan virus after a Facebook post circulated, alleging that a Chinese national had died from the coronavirus on a bus near the Second Link.

Police refuted the report, saying that the man was in fact a Singaporean, and he had died from a heart attack. There was also a post claiming that Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad had told reporters that Malaysia welcomed China tourists as long as they wore masks, which was also fake.

Those found guilty of spreading fake news can be jailed for up to two years or fined RM100,000 (S$33,380) or both, the police said in a statement.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysia bars travellers from Hubei province'. Print Edition | Subscribe