Asia Pacific News

As ASEAN Opens Up, Will Malaysia Be Left Behind?

Malaysia's incredible tourism assets will remain off-limits for a while longer | Image Credit: Getty Images
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A number of Southeast Asian countries have either opened their borders or announced plans to do so. Malaysia, however, against its own National Recovery Council’s recommendations, has demurred, saying it needs to “carefully study” the issue.

This week, Vietnam announced its plans to fully reopen to international visitors. Thailand has been a regional pacesetter for many weeks. Cambodia has largely reopened. The Philippines are beginning to welcome tourists back. Indonesia has tried to work out a plan, as well, after a couple of false starts. Even nervous neighbour Singapore announced yesterday it would open its borders to visitors from “selected” countries, and would, after the Omicron surge subsides, waive quarantine for all vaccinated travellers.

Further afield in the region, Australia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives offer quarantine-free travel, as well.

Australia recently reopened after two years of closure | Image Credit:

Malaysia, though? We’re looking more and more likely to be left behind as tourism restarts in the region. Despite a February 9 recommendation from the National Recovery Council, headed up by recently deposed Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, to reopen to tourism on March 1, the country’s borders remain effectively closed. The government has bandied about excuses such as needing more time to “carefully study” the issue, prompting pundits in the media to ask exactly what needs to be studied at this point?

Muhyiddin himself even stated today (February 18) that the Minister of Health, Khairy Jamaluddin, was part of the decision-making process for the recommendation to reopen, and he agreed with the move.

Some have opined that if the NRC’s recommendations are not going to be implemented — and indeed reports say the Cabinet hasn’t even taken up the reopening matter for discussion — then the entire Council should just be disbanded, as it serves no logical purpose and costs a lot of taxpayer money. (Muhyiddin is reportedly granted minister-level authority and benefits, as the head of the NRC.)

Meanwhile, AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes waded into the mix just recently, as well, imploring governments — including Malaysia’s — to take the leap and open back up.

“Politicians have to be brave,” he said in an interview with the BBC. “It’s time to take a deep breath and assess the facts. Having borders closed isn’t logical anymore because Omicron is in society. We have to protect people’s livelihoods and [our] economies.”

AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes | Image Credit: Yahoo News

Explaining the importance of travel and tourism to the region as a whole, Fernandes said, “To me, opening our borders means no quarantine, no form-filling, no constant testing. It’s time to move on and get on with our lives.”

It’s safe to say that despite a massive, ongoing surge in Omicron cases in Malaysia (with typically only about 0.5% of those cases being serious), a lot of Malaysians are in full agreement.

Leaders of the country: The people have spoken. The NRC has spoken. Your Health Minister has spoken. It’s your move.


For an updated list of Asian countries which are opening, click here.

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