KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 — The government is considering a travel bubble for Langkawi by inoculating most residents in the resort island against Covid-19 before receiving vaccinated visitors, Khairy Jamaluddin said.
The vaccine minister, during a panel discussion on Covid-19 vaccine rollouts and the recovery of the ASEAN economy yesterday, said that Malaysia may adopt a similar strategy as Thailand that aims to allow fully vaccinated travellers to visit its resort island of Phuket from July without quarantine.
“We’re thinking of doing that in Langkawi and of course, the requirements are not just people who are vaccinated coming in to Langkawi, but the DG (director-general) of Health said that you must make sure that everyone in Langkawi as well is vaccinated,” Khairy said.
The quarantine-free tourism model in Phuket requires international visitors to complete their Covid-19 vaccination in their country or origin and to show proof of the vaccination upon arrival in Phuket from July 1 onwards, as well as a negative Covid-19 test result obtained before flying to Thailand.
Reuters reported that Phuket would start a mass Covid-19 vaccination programme two months ahead of the rest of Thailand to prepare to receive tourists from July 1 without imposing quarantine restrictions.
In the panel discussion organised by think tank CARI ASEAN Research and Advocacy and the ASEAN Business Advisory Council yesterday, Khairy also said he will discuss with Singapore and Thailand on potential travel bubbles without waiting for a regional set of regulations from ASEAN itself.
“The reason why we have to move bilaterally is because I can’t wait for ASEAN. I have to discuss with Singapore, I have to discuss with Thailand. They are ready to discuss,” said the science, technology and innovation minister.
“If we’re going to wait for a regional set of rules from ASEAN, I think we will have to wait until we cure cancer before we’re going to get ASEAN working on this.”
Furthermore, Khairy also said that the MySejahtera application will be Malaysia’s vaccine health passport and the government is working on ensuring that MySejahtera has three rigid backend components — Covid-19 test results, vaccination certificate, and serology test results — to prove that an individual has antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
“So we will be using a blend, a mix of these three to allow for people to start doing things again and I think other countries will as well,” said Khairy.
However, it is currently unknown how long natural immunity from Covid-19 infection or protection from a coronavirus vaccine lasts. Healthline reported that although people who recover from Covid-19 have four components of immunity protection — antibodies, helper T cells, killer T cells, and B cells — it is unclear how long immunity lasts.
A new US study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that Moderna’s mRNA vaccine protected against Covid-19 for at least six months after the second dose, with antibody activity remaining high in all age groups.
Khairy cited Doha and Qatar in which international travellers will have to prove that they are inoculated with certain vaccines recognised by those two countries, along with a negative RT-PCR test, so that they can skip quarantine upon arrival.
“It’s not good enough to show that you have been fully vaccinated, but you have to do a quick test if you want to go for a conference. You have to do maybe a quick rapid test kit, antigen test kit that can get results within a couple of hours, then you are free to attend the conference,” added the vaccine minister.
The World Health Organization (WHO), however, said yesterday that it did not recommend Covid-19 vaccination passports as a requirement for international travel, highlighting uncertainty over whether vaccines prevent coronavirus transmission and inequity in access to vaccines.
The White House has also ruled out creating mandatory federal Covid-19 vaccination passports, saying the United States would not set up a federal vaccination database or require Americans to carry a vaccination credential, so as to protect individual privacy and rights.