KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is putting on hold its transition to the endemic phase of Covid-19 due to uncertainties brought about by the recent emergence of the Omicron variant, says Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.
He said this was decided by the Cabinet after the Covid-19 Quartet Ministers meeting yesterday.
“Most importantly, for now, the Quartet meeting decided to temporarily put our efforts to transition to the endemic stage on pause until we know more about the Omicron variant,” he told a press conference in Parliament yesterday.
He said the Omicron variant was discussed at length at the meeting, adding that another wave of Covid-19 cases could put Malaysia’s pandemic progress at risk.
“If we don’t monitor Omicron closely, then how are we supposed to deal with it?” he added.
Hishammuddin also said Putrajaya was monitoring countries where Omicron had spread and that the situation was fluid at the moment.
However, he gave his assurance that there would be no changes to the country’s international pilot tourism programme in Langkawi.
Hishammuddin said domestic travel was addressed together with Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong and representatives from the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry.
“They are considering other tourism bubble locations after Langkawi,” he added.
Regarding the Langkawi bubble as a success, he said there would be an announcement soon by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry along with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Hishammuddin also said the travel ban on seven African countries – South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini – was not based on geopolitics but on health.
“I believe these African countries understand that it isn’t about diplomacy or geopolitics, but health.
“We don’t want to jeopardise our progress for the last one and a half years with irresponsible decisions,” he said.
Hishammuddin added that after the launch of the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) between Malaysia and Singapore, the government was considering opening up other similar routes to Kuching, Penang and Langkawi.
“I have asked all sides to continue discussions with the countries concerned, but we will not make a decision until we know the real impact of Omicron.
“I hope everyone in our country will remain vigilant and doesn’t take risks,” Hishammuddin added.
On Ismail Sabri’s first official visit as premier to Singapore on Monday, he said he hoped to create more travel channels like the green travel bubble with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and certain provinces in China where Covid-19 was under control.
For now, the VTL initiative, which allows quarantine-free travel, is only for fully vaccinated individuals who are citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of Malaysia and Singapore.
Hishammuddin also said the government would impose stricter border controls on countries where the new variant was prevalent.