PETALING JAYA: Now that Malaysia has accepted that Covid-19 is here to stay, the tourism and business sectors are working around generating more consumption while maintaining a high level of vigilance in fighting the virus.

Moving forward, they said the government must ensure that the standard operating procedures (SOP) prepared for the endemic phase are always clear and easy to understand for a smooth transition.

“The move to the endemic (phase) is a welcome one because this shows the resumption of tourism activities that would eventually go back to normal,” said Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents (MATTA) secretary-general, Nigel Wong.

He said tourism players have been taking additional steps to comply with safety and hygiene protocols to keep everyone safe.

“All tourism players across the sectors from hotel to agents, theme parks and attractions, are very well-versed with the current SOPs.

“They have also accepted internationally accredited safety protocols to further enhance the safety and comfort of travellers,” he said.

Wong explained that MATTA had recently banded with the Malaysian Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS), the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), and airlines under the Malaysia Aviation Group (MAG) consisting of Malaysia Airlines, Firefly and MASwings, to ramp up destination readiness and facilitate Malaysia’s reopening for leisure and business travellers.

“These are additional steps being taken by key industry players, not just for domestic travel, but also in readiness to welcome international arrivals,” he said.

Wong noted that more players are beginning to go for certification in order to promote trust and confidence in their services.

“This will work as long as the government ensures the SOPs are clear and easy to understand for the people and businesses so that everyone will not be caught on the wrong side of the law,” he said.

On Tuesday, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Malaysia would be fighting Covid-19 on the new battlefield of “endemicity”, with new strategies in place, by next week.

As more restrictions are lifted, and interstate and overseas travel resumes, he said the onus is on the people to play their roles to keep Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysian Family) safe from Covid-19.

Wong noted that solely relying on domestic tourism is not a sustainable option for the tourism industry, and called on the government to take aggressive steps to open national borders to countries that are considered safe.

“The government needs to ensure both international and domestic travel protocols are kept simple, standardised, and easy to understand by travellers and industry stakeholders alike.

“For a start, MATTA recommends intra-Asean travel between countries with higher vaccination rates, such as Singapore and Thailand.

“Also, the government needs to identify more ‘safe partner’ destinations,” he said, adding that the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flight between Singapore and Germany was a good point of reference.

The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) treasurer, Koong Lin Loong, who also heads its SME committee, cautioned that endemicity is ‘easier said than done’ if businesses take SOPs lightly.

“Opening up is good in general because it encourages consumption, but how long it can be sustained is important.

“We need to understand that this opening up is following the ‘decision’ of the government, and not the virus.

“When there is no discipline to keep up with the SOPs, we will have problems. It is how we contain the spread of the virus,” he said.

Koong expects more clusters to appear following relaxation for interstate travel, judging from what happened in a resort in Langkawi during the pilot travel bubble project, and a wedding function that later saw some guests being infected.

“When more clusters appear, this will affect business. To ensure public safety and long-term business viability, add extra precautions during operation.

“Business operators must not take this lightly; be self-disciplined, and have a survival strategy.

“Conduct a risk assessment to see how exposed they will be; what is the likelihood that they could be infected? This will enable them to prevent an outbreak during operations.

“If everyone can do that, I don’t see why we cannot live with the virus,” he said.