Malaysia looks to reboot economy with travel ‘green zones’

Passengers wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus wait before their flight to Jakarta from Kuala Lumpur international airport on August 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 August 2020

Malaysia looks to reboot economy with travel ‘green zones’

  • Country’s tourism sector severely impacted by coronavirus pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR: With the coronavirus pandemic dealing a severe blow to Malaysia’s tourism sector and domestic travelers unable to revive the industry, the country’s tourism ministry has welcomed the government’s decision to launch travel “green zones” for foreigners. 

“We’ve always been consistent in our approach of asking the government to review international borders,” Tan Kok Liang, president of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), told Arab News, adding that the green zones are “most welcome.”

Domestic travel, despite several efforts taken by MATTA, is not enough to “regenerate sustainable revenues streams” for the nation, he said.

Green zones are routes that have been identified as safe for travel, but with strict testing and monitoring during a visit.

Some countries require a travel itinerary for visitors as well as mandatory testing before departure and also upon arrival. Visitors need not undergo 14-day quarantines. 

The proposal to launch the green zones with Australia, Brunei, China, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam was mooted by Malaysia’s Tourism Ministry in July, with its implementation subject to bilateral agreements based on health, immigration, data tracking and monitoring by each country. 

To limit economic losses due to the pandemic, Malaysia has allowed interstate travel since May, with strict measures in place, including social distancing and mandatory use of face masks.

Dr. Lim Chee Han, a senior researcher at the Third World Network, an international research and advocacy organization, said 69 percent of foreign arrivals to Malaysia last year were reportedly from fellow member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Many service sectors, especially the tourism sector, are desperate to have a revival of some kind of economic activities,” he told Arab News.

In terms of precautionary measures, he said he foresees the use of rapid test kits for all visitors, who will undergo mandatory health screenings upon arrival. Currently, all foreign arrivals must undergo a 14-day self quarantine after testing at airports. 

Malaysia, a popular Southeast Asian travel destination, welcomed 13.35 million international tourists in the first half of 2019, contributing 41.69 billion ringgits ($9.97 billion) in revenue.

On July 18, Arab News reported that Malaysia saw an estimated 50,000 tourists from the Middle East in the first quarter of 2020.

This coincided with the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign, which sought to generate $24.26 billion in tourism revenue with a target of 30 million inbound travelers.

Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

Updated 24 October 2020

Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

  • There has been an upsurge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country
  • The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path toward withdrawing American troops from the conflict

KABUL: A suicide bomber struck near an education centre in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least 18 people in the latest attack to rock the conflict-wracked country.
Violence on the ground has spiked in recent weeks despite the Taliban and the Afghan government holding peace talks in Qatar to end the country's grinding war.
The suicide attack, which also wounded 57, happened late afternoon at the centre, which offers training and courses for students in higher education in a western district of Kabul.
"A suicide bomber wanted to enter the education centre," Tareq Arian, spokesman for the interior ministry, said in a statement.
"But he was identified by the centre's guards after which he detonated his explosives in an alley."
He said the attack had left at least 18 people dead and 57 wounded.
"I was standing about 100 metres from the centre when a big blast knocked me down," said local resident Ali Reza, who had gone to hospital with his cousin who was wounded in the blast.
"Dust and smoke was all around me. All those killed and wounded were students who wanted to enter the centre."
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shiite Hazara community, often targeted by Daesh militants. 
In the past, extremists have targeted several education centres and other facilities in the area.
In May, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight attack on a hospital in west Kabul that left several mothers dead. The gunmen were shot dead after hours of fighting with security forces.