Travellers to Malaysia unhappy over $51 on-arrival Covid-19 test at airports

A health worker carrying out a Covid-19 test at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Travellers arriving in Malaysia are fuming that they have to pay for an expensive professionally administered antigen rapid test at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) when they had already done a pre-departure polymerase chain reaction test.

They also questioned the need for the on-arrival test when Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines have stopped it or have announced that they will halt doing so soon.

Malaysian Cindy Foo, 35, who returned from Jakarta, said she had to do the antigen rapid test - known as RTK-Antigen test in Malaysia - at the airport on April 1.

"We had to wait for the test at KLIA. I don't understand why we have to be tested again when we had already taken the pre-departure test," she said on Wednesday (April 6).

A traveller from Singapore, Mr Muhamad Hamid, 39, also questioned the need to do the test again.

"It would be easier for us if they scrap the on-arrival testing just like other countries in the region," he added.

There are several types of on-arrival Covid-19 test options available at KLIA and low-cost terminal KLIA2, with the professional RTK-Antigen (nasal) test costing RM100 (S$32) for Malaysians and RM160 (S$51) for foreigners.

It normally costs around RM60 to RM70 if the tests are conducted at clinics.

It takes between 15 minutes and 30 minutes for the test results to be out.

For the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test, Malaysians are charged RM250, while international travellers pay RM350, as opposed to its normal price of RM180 and RM250 at clinics.

As for the rapid RT-PCR test, it will cost RM370 for Malaysians, while foreigners pay RM470. The usual price is below RM350.

Private Covid-19 screening provider BP Healthcare is the sole company handling Covid-19 RT-PCR screening, which used to be mandatory for all incoming travellers at KLIA and KLIA2.

Deputy Health Minister Noor Azmi Ghazali told Parliament recently that BP Healthcare was appointed based on an open tender process, while the charges had already been agreed upon.

Malaysian Airport Holdings said there were four different health service providers at four international airports - KLIA, Penang International Airport, Kota Kinabalu International Airport and Kuching International Airport.

Since April 1, fully vaccinated travellers entering Malaysia have been required to undergo a PCR test two days before departure and will also have to undergo a professional RTK-Antigen test within 24 hours upon arrival.

AirAsia Malaysia chief executive officer Riad Asmat said that while the airline welcomed the reopening of international borders, many Asean countries have made the journey easier by simplifying testing regimes for travellers.

"Cambodia, for example, has completely removed any testing requirement, while travellers to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines are required to undertake one Covid-19 test (either pre-departure or on arrival)," he said.

"This provides greater flexibility and eases the travel process. As the pandemic situation continues to evolve, travel processes and regulations such as the number and type of tests could also be reviewed periodically to ensure their relevance, without burdening travellers," he added.

Airline staff welcoming passengers from Jakarta at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, after Malaysia reopened its borders for travellers, on April 1, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

He noted that in Malaysia, although the pre-departure PCR test requirement remains, travellers have to undergo the RTK-Antigen test within 24 hours of arrival.

He said that as Covid-19 tests become increasingly essential for travellers, the affordability of the mandatory testing would also affect the attractiveness of Malaysia as a preferred tourism destination.

"Cheaper PCR and RTK tests will reduce the cost for travellers and support a more effective recovery of the tourism and aviation industry, without compromising public health.

"Allowing more health service providers to offer testing services at Malaysian airports will encourage competition and increase efficiency of test services available," said Mr Riad.

The Malaysia Aviation Group said that it stands guided by the government's directives and appreciates its intervention to simplify the standard operating procedure so that travellers are able to enter Malaysia safely.

Malaysia Tour Guides Association said most international travellers flying into the country have to take their RTK-Antigen tests at the airport upon arrival and there is no reason why it should be overpriced.

"We should be transparent with the RTK test price," said association president Jimmy Leong. "It should be standardised at all airports that have international arrivals and must be similar with the price set by clinics."

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents president Tan Kok Liang also said it was not necessary to have on-arrival testing for passengers.

"Travellers should be allowed in as long as they produce PCR test results and a fully vaccinated certification. The country's standard operating procedure needs regular review in line with medical facts and in tandem with other countries' practices to stay competitive," he said.

Correction note: This article has been updated for accuracy.

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