No decision yet to fully reopen Malaysia's borders, says PM Ismail

The government does not want the entry of foreign tourists to cause a spike in cases in the country. PHOTO: REUTERS

TANGKAK (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Cabinet has yet to discuss the National Recovery Council's (NRC) proposal to reopen the country's borders by March 1, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Friday (Feb 11).

He said the Health Ministry has yet to provide feedback on the proposal to the Cabinet for evaluation.

"We must find a balance between wanting to protect the tourism industry and the people's health, so the Health Ministry will look into it in detail and propose the next step to the Cabinet.

"As of today, our borders are still closed... there's no discussion yet to reopen," Datuk Seri Ismail said after a meet-and-greet programme with the Ledang Barisan Nasional election machinery at Tangkak's Dewan Putra Padang Lerek.

On Tuesday, NCR chairman Muhyiddin Yassin said the council had recommended to the government to fully reopen the country's international borders by as early as March 1.

Datuk Seri Ismail said the only opening so far for quarantine-free travel is at the Malaysia-Singapore border via the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme.

According to him, the government is aware of the woes faced by the tourism industry, which has been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but does not want the entry of foreign tourists to cause a spike in cases in the country.

"I have friends (from my time serving as a minister) in the Tourism Ministry... friends who say they cannot survive, tour drivers who depend on income gained from ferrying travellers. Now, there are none (tourists), they cannot survive," Mr Ismail said.

The government is still providing assistance in terms of wage subsidy to workers, but it does "not pay much, only RM600 (S$193)".

"This is meant to help, but we do not know how much longer they can survive. That's why we may eventually reopen the borders, but to do that, we have to get the advice from the Health Ministry," he added.

"Yes, it's true we want to reopen the borders because we want to assist the tourism industry, but we also want to protect the health of Malaysians. If the travellers who come here are infected, then it will only expedite the increase in the number of cases and endanger our people's health," he said.

Earlier, Mr Ismail spent about three hours in a closed-door meeting with the Muar Barisan Nasional electoral machinery at the Johor Umno building.

He is also understood to have attended a meeting with the northern Johor Umno division chiefs.

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