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People wearing protective masks travel for the Lunar New Year holidays at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing. -AFP
People wearing protective masks travel for the Lunar New Year holidays at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing. -AFP

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has no plans to block travellers from China despite the outbreak of the coronavirus in that country.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said there would be no ban but the authorities would be rigorously checking travellers, especially those from China, to ensure that they are not carrying the virus.

“See, 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,” he said in reference to the recently confirmed cases by the health authorities after attending a Chinese New Year celebration hosted by the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall.

Also present at the celebration was Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Dr Mahathir further said as of now, the government would not be reviewing the visa-free entry allowance given for Chinese tourists in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2020.

“This was given before the outbreak, how were we to know (this would happen)?

“And you know China gives Malaysia three years,” Dr Mahathir said, alluding to the multiple entry visa that China offers to Malaysians on trips for trade and commercial activities.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chairman Datuk Ong Seng Khek (3rd- left) and guests join in the tossing of Yee Sang during the Chinese New Year Open House in Kuala Lumpur. -NSTP/Mohd Yusni Ariffin
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chairman Datuk Ong Seng Khek (3rd- left) and guests join in the tossing of Yee Sang during the Chinese New Year Open House in Kuala Lumpur. -NSTP/Mohd Yusni Ariffin

He said while Malaysia was concerned as its largest number of tourists is routinely from China, the country had also imposed bans such as putting Wuhan and its population of 11 million people under quarantine.

Dr Mahathir was taking a question from the press on netizens blaming the government for the virus landing on Malaysian shores which they had attributed to the visa waiver for Chinese tourists.

He, however, acknowledged that the outbreak was difficult to contain due to travel accessibility around the globe.

“It may become a problem for other countries (as well) because now it has become easier for us to move around from one country to another.

“Those days no one travelled this much, now within three hours a person can now travel from Kunming (China) and by then it has spread without symptoms... and it is difficult to determine whether they are infected or not.”

“Not just people but goods and animals. Sometimes even animals move with humans. (Hence) containing infectious disease has become very complicated, more complicated than before.”

Asked whether the three infected Chinese nationals in Hospital Sungai Buloh would be sent back to China, he said they would remain quarantined in the facility 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.”

The virus, which can be spread from human-to-human, has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that had killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The Chinese government announced it was classifying the outbreak in the same category as SARS, which meant compulsory isolation of those diagnosed with the virus.

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