Hundreds of passengers were left cooling their heels at Kuala Lumpur Airport earlier this week after changes to Malaysia’s entry and quarantine rules. New rules have come into force barring entry to Malaysia if you come from a country with more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases. That’s caused delays, confusion, and stress for many passengers touching down at Kuala Lumpur.
A snap decision by Malaysia to restrict entry
Last week, Malaysia said it was banning citizens from countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases. On that list were the United States, Britain, Brazil, France, Spain, Indonesia, India, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Russia, The Philippines, and Bangladesh. All up, 23 countries are on the list. The rule was to come into force on Monday, September 7.
“We will add more countries deemed high risk, which have more than 150,000 positive cases, into the list. Their citizens will get barred from entering,” The Straits Times reported Malaysian Government Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob saying.
Malaysian citizens would be allowed to return from these countries. However, they will need to go into a 14-day quarantine at a designated facility.
Citizens encounter problems trying to enter their own country
But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for many Malaysians trying to enter the country. A couple of hundred of them were held at Kuala Lumpur Airport for up to ten hours on Monday while customs and immigration officials figured out what to do with them.
The problem appeared to be two-fold. Firstly, immigration officials were unsure whether the Malaysian citizens were allowed to enter their own country. Secondly, when they decided that they were, no arrangements had been made for quarantine facilities.
Most of these passengers came off a flight from the United Kingdom and had letters from the Malaysian High Commission in London, clearing their travel. Malaysian officials also had access to the airline passenger manifest.
One passenger told The Star newspaper;
“At first, we were held back because the ground staff were not sure whether Malaysians were allowed entry under the new ruling.
“We have been given the runaround, and we are all tired from the long flight as it is.”
After hours waiting at the airport, quarantine facilities got organized, and the 200 odd Malaysians made it home. Or at least into 14-days of quarantine.
Government nervous about second wave of COVID
This snap decision by the Malaysian Government reflects an increasing nervousness at government level about further waves of COVID-19. Malaysia has done well with COVID-19, keeping the average rate of new infections at around ten a day. However the northern winter is just around the corner. Government officials are increasingly worried about the threat posed by passengers from countries like the United Kingdom.
Last week’s snap border decision suggests the Malaysian Government is not afraid to act decisively. But it is bad news for airlines that ply the routes between Kuala Lumpur and Europe. They include the homegrown carrier, Malaysia Airlines, but also Qatar Airways and Emirates. Decisions like this will play havoc with their schedules and bookings, and constantly changing rules regarding borders remains one of the biggest short term challenges airlines face.