KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia could be opening up to international tourists including travellers from Singapore "very soon", Malaysia's Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Nancy Shukri has said.
She is due to meet with Singapore officials next week to discuss the resumption of cross-border travel between the two neighbours, which she expects to happen as soon as next month.
Malaysia is aiming to reopen its borders to international tourists in November, and visitors from the city state could be among the first to be allowed into the country, she said.
"We are open [to] Singapore as long as Singapore is open to us as well," Datuk Seri Nancy told CNBC's Street Signs Asia show on Thursday (Oct 21).
When asked when she expected an arrangement with Singapore might be worked out, she said she was "very optimistic that it should be by November".
Prior to the pandemic, a high volume of people crossed the Causeway in Woodlands and the Second Link in Tuas daily to visit families or for work purposes.
Before the border closed in March last year, roughly half a million people from both countries made daily trips between Singapore and Johor.
More than 100,000 Malaysians are estimated to be stuck in Singapore since the borders were closed, and are hoping to be reunited with families back home.
Present cross-border travel with Malaysia is facilitated by the Periodic Commuting Arrangement scheme and the framework for emergency visits in case of deaths or critical illness.
Following Malaysia's reopening of its Langkawi island resort under a travel bubble programme for fully vaccinated domestic tourists last month, more than 128,000 people have travelled to the island by ferry or flight as at Oct 16, Datuk Seri Nancy said.
Malaysia on Oct 11 lifted a ban on interstate travel as it transitions to an endemic phase of living with the coronavirus, and has allowed the economy to reopen as its vaccination rate has risen.
The country is currently in the process of administering the Covid-19 vaccination to teenagers, as well as booster shots to high-risk groups.
Malaysia recorded 5,828 new infections on Saturday, the 21st day that daily caseloads have remained under 10,000 a day.
A total of 94.4 per cent of adults in Malaysia and 72.2 per cent of its total population have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Malaysia has meanwhile said that it will allow foreign tourists to visit Langkawi from mid-November in a pilot project, as the country readies to reopen its international tourism sector.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Friday that fully vaccinated foreign travellers will be allowed to visit the island off the state of Kedah for a minimum of three days - with no quarantine restrictions.
Visitors will need to undergo Covid-19 tests 72 hours before departure and on the second day of arrival in Langkawi. They must also have minimum insurance of US$80,000 ($107,616).
Datuk Seri Ismail announced on Oct 23 night a new foundation to support 5,173 children who lost one or both parents to the virus.
He also said the government would allocate more funds to six least developed states such as Sarawak and Kelantan “to narrow the economic gap”.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.