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Malaysia and Singapore have loosened international travel restrictions to help people transition to live with Covid

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As the Southeast Asian neighbours move away from zero-Covid tactics and toward living with the virus, Singapore and Malaysia have both announced plans to begin reopening their borders.


Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced on Sunday that the country's domestic and international travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people will be lifted on Monday, after the country met its goal of vaccinating 90% of the adult population.


It comes only one day after Singapore announced the addition of eight new nations to its vaccinated and quarantine-free travel lanes, marking the most dramatic loosening of travel restrictions since the country's borders were closed last March.


Covid-19 cases exploded in both Singapore and Malaysia earlier this year, spurred by the highly contagious Delta form.
Both countries implemented aggressive zero-Covid policies, enforcing stringent border closures and imposing strict lockdowns.


The actions come as governments across the region, including Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, seek to reopen local businesses and revitalise their economies through tourism.

Despite continuing to witness active community cases and deaths, Singapore and Malaysia are switching to treating the virus as endemic and aiming to control outbreaks with vaccines rather than restricting residents' lives.


The plans also reflect the "living with Covid" strategy used in many Western countries, notably the United Kingdom and portions of the United States, where daily life has virtually resumed.




At the start of 2021, the number of cases in Malaysia began to rise, prompting the government to reinstate the lockdown restrictions that had been relaxed in December.
Then, in June, it was struck by the lethal Delta variant's razor-sharp edge.


Despite a nationwide curfew, the country was reporting hundreds of thousands of cases each day at its peak in August.


Protests against the government's handling of the virus erupted in July as citizens' frustrations grew as they were forced to endure still more restrictions on their freedom.


Millions of people were urged to stay at home as much as possible during the lockdown and were forbidden from travelling within the United States.
Schools were closed, and public meetings were prohibited.
Malaysia's then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned the next month, propelled in part by popular outrage.


Prime Minister Yaakob's decision on Sunday represents a substantial departure from Malaysia's prior plans, owing in part to a highly successful vaccination campaign.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 66 percent of the country's 32 million citizens had been fully vaccinated eight months following its mass introduction.


"We have to prepare ourselves to live with Covid since Covid may not be completely eradicated," Yaakob said at a press conference on Sunday, adding that if the number of instances rises, Malaysia will not enforce widespread lockdowns again.


As a result of the relaxation of limitations, fully vaccinated Malaysians can now travel abroad without obtaining authorization from immigration authorities.
Travel was previously restricted to commercial, official, or emergency purposes.
Domestic travel will also be permitted, putting an end to the country's 13-state travel prohibition.


Malaysia reopened Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands and a popular tourist destination, to domestic travellers on September 16, with rigorous rules in place.
International passengers are still barred from entering the country, while a full reopening is being considered.


The measures are being eased as the daily caseload continues to decline after skyrocketing from June to August.



Despite recent reports of record daily Covid-19 infections and a jump in mortality caused by a Delta variant epidemic, Singapore is sticking to its approach of living with the virus.


According to data from Johns Hopkins, the island city-state of 5.45 million people recorded a daily record 3,703 cases and 11 deaths on Saturday.
On the same day, Singapore announced the accession of eight Western nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, to its quarantine-free vaccinated travel lane (VTL) system, which is slated to commence on October 19.


According to Transport Minister S. Iswaran, the new rules allow passengers from 11 countries to enter Singapore without having to go through quarantine. This is part of Singapore's "reclaim and rebuild" effort.


Many multinational corporations have Asian headquarters in Singapore, and their executives rely on easy travel to and from the country, which is one of the world's busiest travel and banking hubs.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech to the country that Singapore could not "remain locked down and closed off permanently," citing job losses, family separations, and business closures as causes of "psychological and emotional strain and mental tiredness."


However, while Singapore said in May that it sought to switch to an endemic Covid model, the current Delta variant spike has put those plans in jeopardy.


To impede the spread, Singapore reimposed some local restrictions on October 1.
According to Reuters, the tougher measures included limiting social gatherings to two people and postponing or relocating education online for pupils aged 12 and under, a move that angered Singaporeans.


During his speech on Saturday, Lee stated that being restriction-free would take "at least three months, and possibly as long as six months," and hinted at the possibility of additional lockdowns if cases continue to mount — unlike Malaysia.


"We may yet see future surges once current spike stabilises, especially if new variations arise," Lee said.
"If cases develop too quickly again, we may have to apply the brakes again to preserve our healthcare system and workers."

According to data from Johns Hopkins, Singapore has one of the highest immunisation rates in the world, with more over 80% of its people fully immunised.


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