Coronavirus: Sarawak will follow federal policy on travel restrictions, says Abdul Karim

Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah - file pic

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By Lian Cheng

SARIKEI, Jan 28: Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah is not certain whether Sarawak’s immigration autonomy may be evoked to prevent certain groups of tourists from entering during an outbreak of life-threatening diseases such as the Wuhan novel coronavirus (nCoV).

Presently, Sarawak acts on the preventive policy set down by the federal government. Although Sarawak has exercised its immigration autonomy previously to deny undesirable persons’ entry into the state, Abdul Karim was uncertain whether this could be extended to travellers from coronavirus-affected countries.

“But of course, we stand guided by the federal policy. We cannot have two sets of policies – one for the State, the other one for the federal,” Abdul Karim told the media at Repok assemblyman Datuk Seri Huang Tiong Sii’s Chinese New Year Open House held at Dewan Sentral Sarikei today.

He said the entry of foreign nationals involved international convention and Malaysia cannot just put a halt to the entry of all Chinese nationals.

“When there is a good relationship between Malaysia and China, Sarawak cannot just impose ‘you cannot come in’ (policy). This is federal jurisdiction. If the federal (government) says cannot, of course, we will abide.

“As it is, the federal government says it will only impose (a ban on passengers’ entry) on Wuhan and Hubei (flights) where visas on arrivals have been suspended temporarily, so we adopt that also,” said Abdul Karim.

The Asajaya assemblyman pointed out that nCoV has already spread and there are also those who are not Chinese nationals who have contracted the deadly disease.

“This virus is not just confined to Chinese tourists. The ones in Malaysia, as far as I understand, the four who have been confirmed, if I am not mistaken, two of them are Malaysians.

“So virus doesn’t choose if you are a Chinese citizen or a Malaysian citizen. We have to be careful,” he said.

On whether the outbreak of nCoV may result in cancellation of international events in Sarawak, Abdul Karim said the Sarawak government will depend on the decision of the federal government.

“We will depend on decision of the federal government whether to continue or to cancel; including the entry of foreign participants and others.”

On the Bintulu case where a Chinese national was suspected of contracting the disease and had entered Bintulu through Sabah, Abdul Karim admitted that the preventive measure of the federal government prior to this incident had been too loose.

He said foreigners may enter Sarawak through other ports of entries such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur as there was no direct flight from China to Sarawak.

“On records, they don’t show they are from China. My hope to the Health Ministry is to look into this from a bigger perspective. Don’t just put restriction on direct flight from China to Sarawak. As it is now, we don’t have any direct flight, which is the only preventive measure they (federal government) placed.

“In general, in any entry point, which is Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu, we should put more stringent measures,” Abdul Karim opined. —DayakDaily