JOHOR BARU: About 800 Chinese nationals were forced to turn back to Singapore after arriving at the Second Link yesterday following the freeze on visa for visitors from countries affected by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The tourists, travelling in 30 buses, had arrived in Singapore on Wednesday after spending six nights in Thailand.
They were supposed to spend three nights in Malaysia before flying off to Hong Kong.
A tour guide from Pearl Holidays Travel and Tours Sdn Bhd said her company was only informed of the visa freeze by the Immigration department on Wednesday.
The information was delivered to us by phone. There is no official letter from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism, she said in an interview.
She said it was by then too late to inform her agent in Singapore, and the first bus with 15 passengers arrived at the Malaysian checkpoint around noon.
The group was making arrangements to return to their home country from Singapore, she said.
She also said the group comprised tourists from the northern part of China, and that none of them were from Guangdong, the province that was the worst affected by SARS.
In Kuala Lumpur, NEOH SUAT PHENG reports that the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry has advised intending visitors from affected countries to postpone their trip to Malaysia until the SARS scare is over.
Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir said there was no blanket ban of tourists from these countries but tourist visas would be issued selectively.
We are suffering also because they (the tourists) might contract the virus here and spread it to others, he said after launching the Malaysian Memento phone card at the Saloma Bistro.
China reacted mildly to the Malaysian ban, saying it understood that countries needed to take measures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
But it urged them to evaluate those measures scientifically to avoid harming relations with China.
We understand the measures for entry and exit management that some countries have taken to avoid the spread of the epidemic, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news briefing.
A Hong Kong immigration department spokesman said it was urging Malaysia to reconsider its decision to restrict the entry of visitors from there.
Previously, holders of Hong Kong passports enjoyed a 30-day visa-free stay in Malaysia.
Security secretary Regina Ip also expressed regret over Malaysias decision to restrict the entry of Hong Kong residents, saying it is unnecessary.
So far, no other countries have taken similar measures, said Ip.
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