Thousands of workers return home as Malaysia fully reopens

AP Photo / Vincent Thian
Travelers walk to check in counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, April 1, 2022. Malaysia’s international borders open to foreigners on Friday and fully vaccinated travelers do not have to undergo quarantine.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Thousands of Malaysians working in Singapore returned home Friday as Malaysia fully reopened its borders after more than two years of pandemic closure.

Many had lined up at the border since late Thursday and crossed over at midnight on foot or by car and motorcycles. National news agency Bernama said fireworks can be heard in the background along with shouts of “welcome back” as families waited for their loved ones at the Johor Causeway linking the countries.

The Malaysia-Singapore land border, one of the busiest in the world, was partially reopened Nov. 29 but it was limited to only about 1,500 people one-way daily with strict rules. More than 350,000 people crossed the causeway daily before it was shut, mostly Malaysians working in Singapore.

Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said in a statement that more than 11,000 travelers passed through the checkpoints early Friday. Malaysian officials estimate some 400,000 people are expected to cross the border within the first week.

With most of its population vaccinated, Malaysia has lifted remaining coronavirus restrictions on businesses as it moves to restore pre-pandemic life and revive its economy.

New daily cases have hovered around 20,000, driven by the highly contagious omicron strain but less than 1% have been categorized as serious.

There will be no quarantine for fully vaccinated tourists but they need to take a PCR test two days before arrival. At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, staff wearing traditional costumes welcomed visitors. The first regular AirAsia flight from Jakarta in two years was given a water cannon salute upon landing.

The Malaysia-based low-cost carrier, the largest on the continent, said that 12 flights from within Asia arrived at Kuala Lumpur on Friday, marking the revival of its international operations since March 2020.

“Definitely it’s starting to feel a little normal again,” said Peter Miller, an American expatriate who arrived with his family for work. “Still have to do some testing here and there but … everyone’s learning how to deal with the new phase of the virus.”