Malaysia aims to reopen to international tourists in November, and travelers from neighboring Singapore could be among the first to be allowed into the country, the Malaysian tourism minister told CNBC.
The minister, Nancy Shukri, said she’s meeting officials from Singapore next week to discuss resuming cross-border travel between the two countries. She added Malaysia would be opening up to Singapore “very soon.”
“We are open (to) Singapore as long as Singapore is open to us as well,” Nancy told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Thursday.
When asked when an arrangement with Singapore will be worked out, the minister said she’s “very optimistic that it should be by November.”
CNBC has reached out to the Singapore government for comment, but has not heard back.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 300,000 people crossed the Malaysia-Singapore land border each day, while the air route between Singapore and Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur was one of the busiest globally.
Currently, Malaysian citizens working in Singapore, and Singapore citizens working in Malaysia can cross the land border under a bilateral arrangement — called the Periodic Commuting Arrangement — if they meet certain requirements.
Outside of that scheme, people allowed to enter Malaysia include its citizens, those with diplomatic passports and those with approval from immigration authorities. All arrivals must undergo a seven-day quarantine if they’re fully vaccinated, and 10 days if they’re partially or not vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Singapore has opened up quarantine-free travel — with conditions — to vaccinated travelers from some countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. — but not to those from Malaysia.
Singapore groups countries and regions into four categories based on the risk of Covid transmission, and sets its border measures accordingly. Malaysia is placed in category IV, which comprises places deemed to have the highest risk.
Ensuring Malaysia is not ‘left behind’
Malaysia’s tourism ministry has proposed to the government to allow fully vaccinated international visitors into the island resort of Langkawi starting next month, said Nancy, the minister.
“That’s what we’ve proposed, we will have to wait for the announcement from the government,” Nancy told CNBC. “We hope that they will take it up from there … we’re very optimistic that they’re going to agree with that.”
Langkawi reopened to vaccinated domestic tourists last month. As of Oct. 16, more than 128,000 people have travelled to the island either by ferry or flight, said Nancy.
Malaysia has had to battle a sharp surge in Covid infections this year, with daily reported cases hitting a peak of over 24,000 in August. The number of infections has trended downward in recent weeks as vaccination rates increase.
Around 71.2% of the population has been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, official data showed.
Neighboring countries including Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia have eased some border restrictions to international visitors. And Malaysia doesn’t want to lose out, said Nancy.
“We are observing what other countries are doing and see where we can fit in, try to make sure that we are not left behind,” she said.
But the minister said people should remain cautious when moving about the country while Covid is still spreading. She added that Malaysian authorities are working on a set of measures including quarantine rules in preparation for the reopening of borders.