M'sian health minister says M'sia-S'pore VTL will continue amid concerns over Omicron variant

Malaysia just detected its first case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Jean Chien Tay | December 03, 2021, 06:22 PM

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Amid detection of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in Singapore and Malaysia, Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Dec. 3 that the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) between the two countries will continue, Malay Mail reported.

Speaking at a press conference, the 45-year-old said he is in contact with Singaporean Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, and they have "reaffirmed" that the VTL will continue to operate.

He added that both sides will continue to update each other on a daily basis, and will coordinate their responses accordingly.

However, travellers who enter Malaysia via the land and air VTLs will now be required to do self-testing on the third and seventh days after their arrival, Bernama reported.

The results must also be reported through the MySejahtera app, Malaysia's equivalent to Singapore's TraceTogether contact tracing app, according to Malay Mail.

First case of Omicron in Malaysia reported

Malaysia's Ministry of Health (KKM) announced the first case of the Omicron variant in the country on the same day (Dec. 3).

According to their statement, the patient is a 19-year-old international student who returned to Malaysia on Nov. 19 after visiting her family in South Africa.

The patient is said to have travelled to Malaysia via Singapore, and arrived in Malaysia before South Africa raised the alarm on the Omicron variant on Nov. 24.

After the Omicron strain was made known to the world, KKM conducted genomic tests on 74 positive cases detected from Kuala Lumpur International Airport between Nov. 11 and Nov. 28, before eventually discovering the positive case.

The patient, who was fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, complied with the home quarantine requirement upon arrival.

Travel ban on eight African countries to continue

Khairy also mentioned that the temporary ban on travellers from eight African countries will continue to be implemented, Bernama reported.

The countries are South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

Covid-19 case detected on first day of land VTL

Singapore and Malaysia launched both land and air VTLs on Nov. 29, prioritising citizens, permanent residents, and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering.

On the first day that the VTL was launched, Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said there was a Covid-19 positive case detected among travellers from Singapore who had entered Malaysia.

A male passenger travelling from Malaysia to Singapore via the land VTL also tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 30, Shin Min Daily News reported.

As a precaution, travellers who are entering Singapore via the land-based VTL will have to do pre-departure testing and produce a negative test result upon arrival.

In view of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, land-based VTL travellers must take a second antigen rapid test (ART) upon arriving in Singapore as well.

Monitoring on a weekly basis

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Nov. 29 that Singapore wants to have more open borders between Singapore and Malaysia, even if the new Omicron variant disrupts plans to expand the VTL to general travellers.

PM Lee also shared that he had discussed with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri the possibility of having a sea VTL and resuming port calls by Singapore cruise ships to Malaysian ports.

Minister for Trade and Industry, Gan Kim Yong previously said on Nov. 24 the situation will be reviewed every week "to see whether there is a scope (...) to increase the capacity on a weekly basis".

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Top image via Khairy Jamaluddin/Facebook & Mothership