BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Discussions are still ongoing between Brunei and Malaysia to establish a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) that would pave the way for passengers to travel with minimal or no quarantine requirements, the Malaysian envoy to Brunei said on Wednesday.

Speaking at Tourism Malaysia’s high tea networking event with tourism industry players, High Commissioner Dato’ Raja Reza Raja Zaib Shah Wednesday said both countries intend to gradually reopen the borders.

“We can start off with the air travel bubble first and not entirely open our borders with Brunei. Although discussions are ongoing, I cannot reveal the details.

“We hope that progress will be made and of course, we must be cautious of the Omicron spread so we can’t rush,” he said.

He added that Malaysia’s VTL with Brunei can be modelled based on similar travel arrangements with Singapore.

However, the Malaysia-Singapore VTL has been suspended due to a spike in Omicron cases.

Malaysian High Commissioner to Brunei Dato’ Raja Reza Raja Zaib Shah speaks at the Tourism Malaysia high tea networking event with tourism industry players on Jan 5, 2021. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

The high commissioner said the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic over the last few weeks is of concern and public health should be prioritised “above everything else”.

“It is in this context that tourism now forms part of the global conversation and at the centre of both national and international COVID-19 recovery plans,” added Dato’ Raja Reza.

Malaysia has also started talks with Indonesia and Thailand on establishing the vaccinated travel lane.

Since Brunei banned non-essential travel on March 16, 2020, Malaysia has seen a drastic drop in visitors from the sultanate. 

Arrivals from Brunei to Malaysia plummeted 99.7 percent in the first six months of 2021 to 392 from 135,593 in the same period in 2020.   

In 2020, the number of visitors decreased 88.8 percent to 136,020 from 1,216,123 in 2019.

Dato’ Raja Reza said the total trade between Malaysia and Brunei showed an upward trend, despite the pandemic and border closure.

From January to October 2021, bilateral trade stood at RM6.4 billion [$2.07 billion], up from RM3.9 billion [$1.26 billion] in the same period a year ago.