Update – 28 July 2021
After a long period of what seemed like just ‘more of the same’ we have some news; news that will hopefully signal the start of a long-awaited change in the Covid-19 situation in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Vaccination Plan Picks Up Pace
Malaysia’s vaccination programme has now ramped up to 500,000 doses per day. 53% of the adult population has received one dose whilst 25% are fully vaccinated. Malaysia plans to vaccinate the adult population by the end of 2021 and has secured sufficient supply to carry this task out.
In spite of this huge national effort, vaccine coverage varies from state to state. Sarawak has done very well and 82% of the adult population has received one dose with 58% fully vaccinated. The Sarawak government aims to vaccinate 70-80% of the total population by August 2021. The pace of vaccination in Sabah has been slower with 25% of the adult population receiving one dose.
Whilst much of the news on the country’s vaccine roll out focuses on large scale vaccination centres, an important component of the programme in Sarawak and Sabah is the mobile health teams that visit rural communities. These teams travel by boat and 4WD to longhouses and villages in the interior. Mini clinics are set up on the longhouse ruai or in village halls. In this regard we have good news from Batang Ai. The residents of Nanga Sumpa longhouse and adjacent longhouses have been fully vaccinated.
The Covid-19 situation in many parts of Malaysia continues to be challenging with country-wide cases at an all-time high and the health system in some states under immense pressure. As local and international news reports have highlighted, the situation in Kuala Lumpur and the wider Klang Valley is not good. However, the situation elsewhere in the country is better. Some states have managed to keep case numbers low. Like other countries around the world, Malaysia is in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible.
The Federal Government has outlined a 4 Phase National Recovery Plan. Phase 1 is a lockdown and Phase 4 is a full reopening of all economic sectors in November or December. At present, around half the states in Peninsular Malaysia remain in the Phase 1 lockdown. The situation in East Malaysia is somewhat better with Sarawak and Sabah currently in Phase 2.
So What Does The National Recovery Plan Mean For Tourism?
The national recovery plan specifies that domestic tourism activities and interstate travel can commence in Phase 4. However, since the plan was announced the Federal Government has indicated that it will take a state-by-state approach to reopening and moving from phase to phase. As such, we expect domestic tourism activities will commence in some States before the Nov / Dec national target date.
For example, tourism industry players in Sarawak have held discussions with the State Ministry of Tourism regarding the timing of a reopening. It is hoped that intra-state domestic tourism may commence in September if vaccination targets and other metrics are met. Nothing has been fixed yet but with Sarawak on track to meet its targets we are optimistic that Sarawakians will be allowed to travel within their own state in the third quarter of 2021. Opening up to domestic tourists from other States in Malaysia will form the second phase of Sarawak’s reopening.
So what about international tourists? It really is too early to say as the Federal government has not put a date on this. While there has been talk of opening specific destinations (e.g. Langkawi and Kuching), as yet, the National Recovery Plan is silent on opening the borders to international tourists.
From an industry perspective, it would of course be helpful for the Federal government to announce a targeted reopening date. We hope that there will be some form of reopening for international tourists in the first quarter of 2022. However, so far there has been very little from the Federal Ministry of Tourism. As soon as there are dates, phases and entry procedures, we will let you know.
Update – 11 March 2021
Malaysia Begins Covid-19 Vaccinations
We are happy to report that Malaysia commenced its vaccination programme on 24th February 2021. Malaysia has secured 66 million vaccine doses from a range of producers including Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
Malaysia’s vaccine drive targets 24 million residents, including foreign nationals with the aim to get 70-80% vaccinated. The first phase between February and April covers 500,000 healthcare workers and other front-line workers. The second phase runs from April to August 2021 covering 9.4 million people and the third phase is from May 2021 to February 2022 and targets 13.7 million.
Making the Best of Difficult Times
There is no denying that it has been a rough year or so. Nonetheless, since the pandemic began we have done the best we can for our valuable clients and customers. When borders started to close in early 2020 and Malaysia’s lockdown started in mid-March we were able help our customers leave the country and return home. By 20th March all customers had safely left Malaysia.
Throughout 2020 we refunded any customer who wished to cancel due to the pandemic. We are very thankful to all customers who decided to postpone their booked trips for 2020 and we look forward to welcoming you as soon as travel is once-again permitted.
In spite of the fact that tourism has been on hold, we have looked after our staff as best as we can. While we have had to reduce working hours, we have not retrenched any staff. We have managed to survive thanks to our cost-cutting and our healthy financial reserves. Our intention is to be ready to welcome our clients through 2021 and beyond.
When Will Malaysia Open its Borders?
Domestic (in-country) tourism activities are taking place but the borders remain closed. At this stage it is still difficult to say when Malaysia’s borders will reopen for tourists. The Malaysian government is gauging the success of the vaccination programme before giving a clear indication. The positive news is that the country has begun its vaccine roll out. However, it will take some months before vaccinations get going in any numbers.
We anticipate that the borders are unlikely to open in the first half of 2021. There is some talk of vaccine or health passports and green lanes but at the moment nothing has been formalised. We are hopeful that some form of re-opening will occur in mid to late 2021, but this will depend on several factors. The initial phase of reopening is likely to be somewhat limited. Allowing vaccinated travellers to enter would be a welcome first step, but there is no firm news on this as yet.
Going forward, with no firm border opening date, we are taking bookings but with flexible booking conditions. We are not taking any deposits and tours can be cancelled or rescheduled without any additional fees.
Update – 1 July 2020
Some positive signs; as of 30th June the overall Covid-19 case count for Malaysia remains relatively low (below 8,650 cases). Whilst Malaysia continues its strategy of suppression and is keeping cases at a very low level, we are beginning to see a return to some level of normality with sectors of the economy opening up.
The current Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) will be in place until 31 August 2020. This mandates social distancing, limiting numbers in gatherings and other measures, but shops and businesses are open. The government is taking a phased approach to reopening with each sector only allowed to open provided it follows the government-issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Some sectors (e.g. clubs and pubs) remain closed for the time being.
The good news for the tourism sector is that interstate domestic tourism is now allowed and the government has issued a series of SOPs for hotels, tour operators, homestays, tourism attractions, etc. For the time being however, borders remain closed to foreign tourists from outside the country and no date for reopening to international tourists has been announced.
The government has also recently announced Covid-19 testing charges for people returning to Malaysia. At present, the new charges are only for Malaysians and expatriates returning to Malaysia. We are hopeful that this is perhaps a first step towards following the Iceland model of testing tourists upon arrival when borders open. The fees for foreigners are RM 60-250 depending on the type of test (antibody rapid test, antigen rapid test or polymerase chain reaction)
There have been some early discussions on the possibility of travel bubbles but no firm agreements as yet. Countries in ASEAN that have shown success in containing the virus (e.g. Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, etc.) will likely be the first (countries) to be part of any ‘green lane’ covid-19 travel arrangements.
On the ground, tourism attractions in both Sarawak and Sabah are reopening. For example, all national parks in Sarawak are open with capacity limits in place to avoid crowding on the trails. Most 4 and 5 Star hotels have reopened, although some properties remain closed with plans to reopen when the RMCO is over. Many budget hotels remain temporarily closed and some have closed for good.
For our part, Borneo Adventure has implemented a series of new measures to further ensure the health and safety of our guests and our staff during tours. We are following the Malaysian federal government SOPs, any State government guidelines, and also international initiatives such as WTTC’s Safe Travel global protocols. We have also put in place new protocols for our lodges and jungle camps at Batang Ai. Our guides, drivers and other frontline staff have undergone training on our new SOPs.
Borneo Adventure is ready to operate and host international visitors again and we are looking forward to when the borders re-open. We have started to receive enquiries again and have taken a few bookings. Small but welcome signs. We look forward to welcoming clients to the wonders of Borneo soon.
Update – 20 May 2020
We are now into our 10th week since the Government of Malaysia implemented a Movement Control Order to stem the spread of the Coronavirus. This order included closing the borders to foreign arrivals and limiting movement with the country between states and districts. These stay at home measures, while definitely tough on business, have had the desired effect of slowing the spread of the disease and enabling our medical facilities the time to cope with cases that did turn up. Thankfully, the total case count in Malaysia has been relatively low (as of today, below 7,000) and the current trend is that fewer new cases are occurring.
In response to the improving situation, and recognizing that businesses need to restart, the government has recently allowed a gradual reopening under a Conditional Movement Control Order. This modification to the order has allowed essential businesses and food outlets to reopen, but only while observing protocols of hygiene, social distancing and limited numbers of people at any one time. We can now go out and exercise, but all group activities including sports (and tours) are still not allowed.
Borneo Adventure’s offices are open and we are continuing to deal with administration and keeping in touch with our valuable customers, agents and suppliers. However, under the present situation we are not allowed to do any tourism activities. A positive sign is that Sabah has now opened its national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to limited visitation. For the time being parks and attractions in Sarawak remain closed to visitors.
Whilst domestic tourism is now allowed in Sabah (with social distancing), under the current guidance, foreign tourists are still banned from entering Malaysia until 9 June. The Malaysian government is continually reviewing the situation but has not yet indicated when foreign tourists will be allowed into the country.
Given the apparent success of the containment measures taken, we remain cautiously optimistic that we might be able to see a resumption of tourism by the fourth quarter of this year, or perhaps earlier. This of course will depend on many factors at the local, regional and global scale, which are beyond our control.
That these are challenging times is certainly an understatement. However, we are committed to weathering this storm as we have weathered other storms in our 30+ year history. There will no doubt be changes, but we are looking forward to working with all our industry partners to emerge stronger and to continue providing exciting and innovative programmes that feature the best of Borneo.
We hope this finds you well and ready to take on the challenges.
27 March 2020
We hope you are well during these difficult times. We would like to provide you with an update on the situation in Malaysia.
As with many countries around the world, the Malaysian Government has taken steps to stop the spread of Covid-19. The Government has imposed a Movement Control Order (MCO) from 18 March 2020 until 12 May 2020.
The measures put in place have essentially closed the country’s borders and restricted movement within the country. This includes closing all non-essential businesses and services and requiring people to stay at home. The government may extend the MCO.
In line with government guidelines, our offices in Kuching and Kota Kinabalu are temporarily closed. Our team is working from home replying to emails and inquiries. If you have booked a tour with us for 2020 and have any questions please email us for updates.
As you are aware, airlines have cut back on flights all over the world including to Malaysian Borneo. Domestic flights are limited as Air Asia has grounded its fleet. Malaysian Airlines is currently still operating and providing a valuable air bridge to Sarawak and Sabah.
With all these developments, it realistically won’t be possible to run tours for the next few months. There are limited flights, public places and tourism attractions are closed and people rightly have other priorities.
When things will normalise is difficult to say and we understand that this is not the ideal time for traveling. Many people are affected and are facing difficulties.
Borneo Adventure is confident that we’ll get through these challenging times. We have been in business for over 30 years and this is not the first challenge we, or the travel industry have faced.
Like others around the world, Borneo Adventure and our team are hunkering down, staying safe and looking forward to the end of this crisis.
We wish to reassure you that we will get through this present crisis and we will be ready to resume our normal business arrangements as soon as the situation has normalised.
Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by Covid-19, wherever you are in the world.
Stay safe. Stay in touch. And for now, stay at home.