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Malaysia reopens cautiously to foreign workers, tourists

By AP | Oct 23, 2021

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020 file photo, foreign workers wearing face masks wait to be tested for COVID-19, at a wet market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia's government says all foreign workers must undergo mandatory virus testing as many business sectors reopen in parts of the country for the first time since a partial virus lockdown began March 18. Malaysia said Friday it will reopen its borders to foreign workers to address a labor crunch, and allow fully-vaccinated foreigners holiday at the northern resort island of Langkawi next month without quarantine. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia said Friday it will reopen to foreign workers to address a labor crunch, and allow fully vaccinated tourists at the northern resort island of Langkawi next month without quarantine.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government will use the reopening of Langkawi on Nov. 15, the first time foreign tourists will be allowed back since March 2020, as a gauge for three months before opening up the rest of the country.

It comes amid a sharp fall in coronavirus cases, and a beefed-up vaccination campaign with 94% of adults — or 72% of the population — getting their shots. Daily infections have fallen to below 7,000 from a peak of more than 20,000 in August. Malaysia has recorded a total 2.41 million cases, with more than 28,000 deaths.

Ismail said only holidaymakers from some countries, a list of which will be released soon, will be allowed in initially. They will have to undergo COVID-19 tests three days before departure and during their stay. Travelers must also have at least $80,000 insurance coverage, stay for a minimum of three days and engage a local tour guide, he added.

Ismail said the government has also agreed to let foreign workers return to the plantation sector on a case-by-case basis. He said the workers must be fully vaccinated, have a negative COVID-19 test three days before arrival and undergo a seven-day quarantine.

Migrant worker quotas and entry dates for other industries are still being worked out, he said. Officials have said the first batch of 32,000 foreign workers is expected soon.

Malaysia banned the hiring of foreign workers in June last year to give locals more employment opportunities, but it sparked a severe labor shortage. The National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia said that the number of foreign workers has dwindled to 1.1 million from 1.9 million in 2018, the Star daily newspaper reported Thursday.

The chamber data showed that plantations require 70,000 foreign workers, the rubber glove industry 25,000, furniture 30,000, construction 200,000, manufacturing 25,000, services 45,000 and plastics more than 6,000, the Star reported.