PUTRAJAYA - The announcement on Tuesday (March 23) by Malaysia and Singapore to work towards facilitating bilateral cross-border travel spotlights Malaysia's gradual recovery from a coronavirus crisis that had threatened to overwhelm its healthcare system just two months ago.
The country posted daily infections of nearly 6,000 at the end of January and declared a national emergency, but cases have tapered off in recent weeks, aided by mass testing of its foreign workers and a vaccination roll-out.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan met his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, in Putrajaya on Tuesday and discussed, among other matters, mutual vaccine certification to aid cross-border travel.
In a joint statement, Dr Vivian and Mr Hishamuddin said they had discussed "their respective national vaccination roll-out plans which are under way in Malaysia and Singapore, and how this could facilitate cross-border travel between both countries in the near future".
The discussions took place less than two months after Singapore suspended its Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) cross-border travel scheme with Malaysia after a spike in Covid-19 cases in Malaysia at the beginning of the year.
Malaysia last year had managed to bring the pandemic under control, only to see cases surging in a third wave that started in September.
The spike saw Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin re-imposing nationwide travel curbs in January and asking the Malaysian King to impose a national emergency. The emergency was declared on Jan 12 and is set to last until Aug 1.
Active cases - those being treated for Covid-19 in hospitals or government centres - reached as high as 52,000 in early February.
But these cases have since fallen by more than half, standing at 14,454 cases on Tuesday, as more people recovered and the number of new infections fell in March.
After recording a high of 5,728 daily cases on Jan 30, Malaysia has seen over 1,000 new cases a day for the past 18 days, with 1,384 cases recorded on Tuesday.
This plateau in the number of daily cases at above 1,000 a day is accompanied by Malaysia's Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, which started on Feb 24.
So far, 452,919 doses of vaccine have been administered, covering less than 2 per cent of Malaysia's population of 32 million.
Much of the country's economy has been reopened following a partial movement control order that lasted more than a month, although inter-state travel remains prohibited.
Malaysia announced on Monday that nearly 1.5 million documented foreign workers have been screened for Covid-19, with the bulk of them - totalling 1.2 million - being in the manufacturing, construction, plantation and agricultural sectors.
Malaysia has some 2.2 million foreigners who work in the country legally.
The authorities have said that they aim to vaccinate 80 per cent of the population by the end of this year in order to achieve herd immunity.
Malaysia has secured vaccines to cover its entire population, and will next month begin a crucial second phase of its vaccination roll-out, inoculating senior citizens and other high-risk groups.
The country is on track to finish vaccinating over 500,000 front-line workers by the end of this month, before moving on to senior citizens, who make up almost 30 per cent of the population.
However, vaccine registration remains relatively slow, with over six million - or only 25 per cent of the population - having signed up. Malaysia has also said it plans to inoculate millions of undocumented migrants.