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Health expert sounds alarm as tourists from Covid-hit China prep for travel

Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar says recent developments in the republic are 'tricky'.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
2 minute read
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A traveller is screened for Covid-19 upon arrival at KLIA in Sepang, on April 1 when Malaysia reopened its borders as part of the country's transition towards the endemic phase.
A traveller is screened for Covid-19 upon arrival at KLIA in Sepang, on April 1 when Malaysia reopened its borders as part of the country's transition towards the endemic phase.

A public health expert has urged the government to consider strict measures to curb the entry of tourists from China, which has been struggling with a new wave of infections since lifting its pandemic restrictions earlier this month. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar described the recent developments in the republic as "tricky". 

"The surge of Covid-19 cases in China is real and worrying," he added. 

"China has allowed its citizens to leave the country. This is like opening the floodgates and letting cases spill out across the world." 

Zainal said government measures on the part of Malaysia could include daily monitoring of the situation, with the possibility of restrictions if cases rise too high. 

"Visitors who wish to enter the country should be fully vaccinated and undergo Covid-19 screening, and should be closely monitored.

"Conduct random screening according to flights," he added. 

Zainal's remarks follow those of the Malaysia Tourism Agency Association (Mata), which urged the government to suspend the entry of tourists from China until the country's daily Covid-19 caseload decreases.

Reports yesterday said that nearly half of the passengers from China onboard a flight to Italy tested positive for the virus. 

China abruptly reversed course towards living with the virus earlier this month, ending three years of a relentless "zero-Covid" approach to the pandemic. 

A wave of infections followed, triggering concern from countries such as the US, South Korea and Japan which said they would impose Covid tests for travellers from China.

In Malaysia, concern is also on the rise, especially ahead of the Lunar New Year celebration which normally sees an influx of tourists from China. 

One report estimated that a million Chinese visitors would enter the country in 2023.

Malaysia first closed its borders in March 2020, several months after the onset of the pandemic. The previous government led by Pakatan Harapan had earlier said there was no need to shut the country's borders.  

Zainal meanwhile said that Malaysia was almost completely out of the pandemic phase. 

But while vaccination rates are high, the numbers for first and second booster shots are less encouraging. 

"It's possible that Malaysia's immunisation level is decreasing," Zainal said. 

"Precautionary measures are also becoming more lax. All we can do is pray. The memories of December 2019 to 2021 are still fresh in the minds of many."

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