Saturday, May 03, 2003

‘SARS-Free’ Malaysia Beckons
Summer Holiday-Makers

By K.S. Ramkumar, Arab News Staff

JEDDAH, 3 May 2003 — Malaysia claims to be free from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that broke out in other countries around the region.
“Whatever few traces of suspicion were detected in recent days have been dealt with,” Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in a statement.
The statement was released by Zalizam Zakaria, director (overseas) of the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board of the ministry of culture, arts and tourism.
“Malaysia has so far had only two SARS deaths,” Zakaria said.
“All necessary measures are now in place and duly enforced by the appropriate authorities. The overall SARS situation is being continuously monitored and coordinated by the National Committee on SARS Control chaired by the country’s health ministry,” he added.
Zakaria said the Malaysian government had decided to revise the temporary travel restrictions enforced for incoming travelers from affected countries.
“With immediate effect, Canada, Hong Kong and Taiwan are exempted from such restrictions. This follows the screening processes introduced by the affected countries in containing the spread of SARS.”
Close bilateral consultations were now in progress with China and Vietnam — the other two most affected countries — to ensure foolproof screening procedures of passengers heading for Malaysia.
“In the meantime, tourists from these two countries are now allowed to enter Malaysia, subject to medical certification and visa,” Zacaria said, adding that the Malaysian government had undertaken a series of consultations at both diplomatic and technical levels with the affected countries in a collaborative effort.
Malaysia, whose tourist infrastructure includes 120,000 rooms in 1,400 hotels and apartments, recorded a tourist inflow of 13.39 million in 2002, an increase from 12 million in 2001.
“Saudis constitute a big segment of tourists from the Middle East. They totaled 45,000 from among 131,779 visitors from the Middle East.
Saudis spent 376.3 million ringgit in 2001 as against 177 million ringgit in 2000. We expect some 400,000 vacationers to visit Malaysia this summer,” Zakaria said, adding that Malaysian airports had Arabic-speaking hosts to welcome Middle East visitors and halal food was available all over the country with its 50 percent Muslim population.
The local Malaysia Airlines manager said a fourth flight to and from Jeddah would be added by the end of May.