On 8 March 2022, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, announced that Malaysia will commence its transition to the endemic phase and reopen its borders from 1 April 2022.
The Prime Minister explained that the transition to endemic phase is an exit strategy that would allow Malaysians to return to near-normal life after nearly two years of battling the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri also stated that the following restrictions imposed during the pandemic will be removed during this transition period:
- the limitation on business operating hours, thus enabling business owners to observe business hours stipulated in their business licences;
- the 50% capacity limit for activities involving large gatherings;
- the capacity limit imposed on the number of employees allowed in the workplace based on the employees’ vaccination status; and
- the social distancing requirements at mosques and places of worship, subject to guidelines issued by the state religious authorities and the National Unity Ministry.
Other relaxations announced by the Prime Minister include:
- allowing interstate travel regardless of a person’s vaccination status; and
- exemption from using the MySejahtera application for open areas that are not crowded and where there are no public gatherings but the MySJTrace function must be activated in enclosed premises and indoor events with large number of guests.
Revised standard operating procedure
On 9 March 2022, Senior Defence Minister Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein announced that from 1 April 2022, the existing 181 Standard Operating Procedures will be replaced by a single Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”) containing ten requirements, namely:
- Wearing face masks in public places;
- Operating hours according to the business permit or licence;
- Maintaining hand hygiene;
- Conducting Covid-19 screening according to the National Testing Strategy;
- Managing suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases according to the Ministry of Health’s guidelines;
- Using MySejahtera and MySJTrace for admission registration;
- Maintaining physical distancing of one metre;
- Ensuring good ventilation system;
- Ensuring cleanliness of premises; and
- Complying with the vaccination requirements for certain activities.
Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin added that the SOP will be supplemented by nine guidelines which will not be enforced by the authorities but which the public are encouraged to follow for the various activities to reduce the risk of infection. The guidelines will cover activities relating to (i) transportation and travel; (ii) education and care; (iii) retail, food and beverage; (iv) closed workspaces; (v) open workspaces; (vi) events, ceremonies, entertainment and tourist attractions; (vii) hotels and guest accommodations; (viii) religious events, weddings and funerals; and (ix) sports, recreation and leisure.
The Senior Defence Minister said that the SOP and nine guidelines for the “Transition to Endemic” phase will be published on a Government website two weeks before 1 April 2022.
Reopening of Malaysia’s borders
With the reopening of the country's borders, Malaysians will be allowed to travel to any country that has also opened its borders to foreign travellers. For countries that have yet to reopen their borders to foreign travellers, the Vaccinated Travel Lanes (“VTL”) measure agreed between the Malaysian Government and the affected countries will remain in effect. The Prime Minister has announced that the VTL measure will be used for inbound and outbound flights between Malaysia and Thailand, Malaysia and Brunei, and Malaysia and Indonesia.
Foreign travellers will be allowed to enter Malaysia without having to apply for the MyTravelPass. Previously, foreign travellers are required to apply for the MyTravelPass which is an entry or exit permit before entering the country. With the reopening of the country’s borders, foreign travellers will only be required to download and activate the MySejahtera application when they are in Malaysia.
In addition, fully vaccinated foreign travellers entering Malaysia will not be required to undergo quarantine but will be required to take a Covid-19 RT-PCR test two days before departure and a professional RTK Antigen test within 24 hours of arrival, whether at the airport or at a health facility.1 However, foreign travellers entering Malaysia who are not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 must undergo quarantine for five days. 2
The forgotten children?
Nightclubs will be the last activity remaining on the “negative list” and will not be allowed to operate during the transition period as the nature of the activity is considered high risk.3 While the Government’s concern may be well-founded, these businesses would have incurred huge losses as they have not been allowed to hold clubbing activities (but were allowed to operate as restaurants) since the lockdown was first imposed two years ago. It would be good if the Government can, in the spirit of inclusiveness under the “Keluarga Malaysia” concept, allow these business to re-commence operations albeit in a limited manner once the number of new Covid-19 cases falls to a prescribed level.
According to the Prime Minister, this transition to endemic phase is a temporary phase before Malaysia moves into the endemic phase, which is subject to announcements by the World Health Organisation. The transition to endemic phase was previously planned to be implemented in October 2021 but it was delayed due to the surge in Covid-19 infections in the country caused by the Omicron variant.
Malaysia’s borders have been shut since March 2020 and it is hoped that the reopening of the country’s borders on 1 April 2022 will revive the country's economy, especially the tourism industry, which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.