Earlier today, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was asked if the government plans to stop Chinese tourists from entering Malaysia in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus in that country
At the moment, not yet.
The Prime Minister said that the government has no plans to block travellers from China from coming into the country. For now, the government would only screen passengers and tourists.
According to him, authorities would be rigorously checking travellers, especially those from China, to ensure that they are not carrying the Wuhan virus that has reached Malaysia's shores.
"Checking has enabled us to detect the virus at an early stage. Although they did not have high temperatures, there was enough evidence to show that they were suffering from the virus," Dr Mahathir said referring to the first set of positive cases where three Chinese citizens tested positive with the virus.
The three patients are currently in Sungai Buloh Hospital, which is Malaysia's Centre for Infectious Diseases and is equipped with the most modern and advanced facilities to handle such cases.
Dr Mahathir's response comes after the Ministry of Health proposed to discuss with the Ministry of Home Affairs on the need to restrict the arrivals of Chinese nationals to minimise the spread of the virus
"We are suggesting to discuss with the Home Ministry," Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad was quoted as saying by Malaysiakini while he was responding to reporters during a press conference at the National Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre at the ministry's headquarters in Putrajaya today, 25 January.
"I have informed the Prime Minister yesterday on the confirmation of the three cases and I am confident I will get to discuss with the Home Minister to determine the next step as this is outside our jurisdiction."
The Prime Minister was also asked to comment on people questioning the government's decision to continue the Visa Waiver Programme for Chinese nationals and if the said Programme will be discontinued
"This was given before the outbreak, how were we to know (this would happen)?" he said, adding, "And (at that time), China had given a three-year visa (exemption) to Malaysians."
The Visa Waiver Programme is called the Electronic Travel Registration & Information (eNTRI).
According to Malaysia Visa website, it's an online registration facility provided by the Government of Malaysia to facilitate the entrance of PRC passport holder tourists who are residing in the People's Republic of China (including Hong Kong and Macau) into Malaysia.
Under the Programme, an eNTRI Note is issued as proof of the registration and it is required to be presented upon arrival in Malaysia. No entry is allowed without the eNTRI Note.
The eNTRI Programme was first introduced in 2015 under the Barisan National administration.
During its introduction phase, the Programme was meant only for Chinese tourists. However, in 2017, the government widened it to include Indian tourists.
In 2019, the eNTRI Programme was suspended for a brief period between 1 January to 10 January following media reports about possible weaknesses in the system.
According to a report in The Star, the suspension was lifted on 11 January last year after it had raised concerns among players in the tourism industry of a drop in arrivals from China.
The Pakatan Harapan administration continued the eNTRI Programme for both Chinese and Indian tourists in December last year in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia 2020 campaign.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir said that the three infected Chinese nationals would remain quarantined at the Sungai Buloh Hospital and continue to be treated to ensure that their condition does not escalate
"We will observe so it doesn't get worse. At this point, it's still in the initial stages. They will stay there and we will quarantine them," New Straits Times quoted him as saying.
And as the virus disrupts everyday life in China with authorities suspending public transport in 10 cities, shutting down several tourist attractions and temples over the Lunar New Year, the government in Wuhan is now building a new hospital to treat the infected:
Read more about the Wuhan virus on SAYS: