Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said Sunday the country would end its domestic and international travel restrictions for fully vaccinated residents from Monday, after reaching its target of full inoculation for 90% of the adult population.
It comes one day after Singapore added eight new countries to its vaccinated and quarantine-free travel lanes — the most significant easing of travel restrictions since borders shut last March.
Empty tables and closed restaurants seen in Chinatown, Singapore on October 5.
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The plans also mirror the “living with Covid” approach seen in many Western countries, including the United Kingdom and parts of the United States, where daily life has largely returned to normal.
Cases in Malaysia began to surge at the start of 2021, prompting the government to reimpose lockdown restrictions that had been lifted last December. Then in June, it felt the sharp edge of the deadly Delta variant.
Despite a national lockdown, at the peak of the surge in August the country was reporting hundreds of thousands of cases per day.
Frustrations mounted among citizens who were forced to endure yet more curbs on their freedom, and protests against the government’s handling of the virus broke out in July.
A police officer removes a barricade at a roadblock after the end of a partial lockdown in Bentong, Malaysia’s Pahang state on October 11.
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Under the lockdown restrictions, millions of people were told to stay at home whenever possible and prohibited from domestic travel. Schools were closed and gatherings banned. The following month, Malaysia’s then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned, fueled in part by the public’s seething anger.
“We have to train ourselves to live with Covid, because Covid may not be eliminated fully,” Yaakob told a news conference Sunday, adding Malaysia will not impose wide lockdowns again if cases rise.
The easing of restrictions means fully vaccinated Malaysians can travel overseas without applying for permission from immigration authorities. Previously, travel was largely restricted for business, official or emergency reasons. Domestic journeys will also be allowed, ending the ban on travel across Malaysia’s 13 states.
The easing of measures comes as the daily caseload continues to drop after rising steeply from June to August.
Singapore is continuing to uphold its strategy of living with the virus, despite recently reporting record daily Covid-19 cases and a spike in deaths fueled by a Delta variant outbreak.
Under the new rules, travelers from a total of 11 countries can enter Singapore without having to quarantine — all part of its “reclaim and rebuild” campaign, according to Transport Minister S. Iswaran.
Singapore is home to the Asian headquarters of many multinational companies, whose executives rely on ease of travel to and from the country — one of the world’s biggest travel and finance hubs.
In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore could not “stay locked down and closed off indefinitely,” adding that job losses, separation of families and business closures had caused “psychological and emotional strain and mental fatigue.”
People enter a Covid-19 vaccination center in Singapore on October 7.
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On October 1, Singapore reimposed some local restrictions to thwart the spread. The tighter measures included limiting social gatherings to two people and suspending or moving classes online for students age 12 and under — a move met with some frustration by Singaporeans, Reuters reported.
During his address Saturday, Lee said it would take “at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months” to become restriction-free, and hinted at the possibility of future lockdowns if cases begin to rise — unlike Malaysia.
“After this surge stabilizes, we may still see future surges, especially if new variants emerge,” Lee said. “We may have to tap on the brakes again if cases again grow too fast, to protect our healthcare system and healthcare workers.”
Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with more than 80% of its population fully vaccinated, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Singapore’s decision to go ahead with the VTL comes as other countries in the Asia-Pacific region also move toward living with Covid.
Vietnam’s government said Wednesday it plans to reopen key tourist destinations to vaccinated visitors from countries deemed a low Covid-19 risk from December, ahead of a full resumption targeted for June next year, Reuters reported.