KOTA KINABALU, Feb 6 — The Sabah government is standing firm on its one-week visa extension for Chinese nationals in the wake of its ban on direct flights from China due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said that the state had to take precautions to protect its citizens and had decided that a one-week extension would be sufficient for any stranded tourists to find a flight back to China via Kuala Lumpur.
“It’s an endless kind of request. If we were to extend it for a month, they will request it for a year. It’s not so easy for us to cater to them in the event that something happens,” he said, adding that the state had not made the decision to ban flights from China lightly.
“We don’t have the capacity in Sabah. It is different from west Malaysia. They have hospitals and specialists. Here, we have limited infrastructure to ensure that we can not only handle it but also manage it,” said Shafie when speaking to reporters after a Chinese New Year gathering hosted by Penampang MP Datuk Darell Leiking.
He said that Sabah’s main hospital — Queen Elizabeth — in Kota Kinabalu might not have the capacity to handle more quarantined patients in the event of an outbreak.
The state, however, has identified a place on the Sepanggar navy base which has 12 beds, he added.
Shafie said that the state cannot afford to let an outbreak hit Sabah, especially after the recent return of polio after 27 years.
“We do not take it lightly. It can happen to us, and we have been vulnerable to all kinds of diseases,” he said.
Shafie said that the state was not blind to the plight of the Chinese travellers but added that they must also respect the state’s predicament.
“Their own government has taken very strict and tough measures. They’ve locked down the affected areas and asked all their nationals not to travel, so they must also respect our measures.
“We’ve given leeway, we can extend their visa for seven days, but not more than that. I’m made to understand that there’s more than enough flights, not from here but from KL to many places in China, through AirAsia, Malindo and MAS,” he said.
Shafie had been asked to comment on reports that Chinese tourists were unhappy about only getting a week’s visa extension after the state imposed a travel ban on Chinese nationals flying direct from China to Kota Kinabalu.
The tourists said that they wanted to wait out the situation in Sabah instead of going back to China where the risk of contracting the contagious virus is higher.
The state government had on Tuesday said it would seek help in repatriating Chinese tourists stranded here as well as extend their visas by a week. This is applicable only to Chinese tourists who arrived in Sabah before January 31, 2020 and upon proof of valid return tickets.
This is also after the China consul-general’s office here issued a statement asking the state to assume responsibility and come up with an action plan to help “thousands” of stranded Chinese tourists return home.
The state government has no jurisdiction over flights coming into Sabah but it has jurisdiction over immigration and can prevent any individuals from entering the state.
Shafie said that the state had communicated with the China consul-general and the embassy much earlier, even before the tourists’ departure from China that such restrictions had been imposed in Sabah.
“So we cannot be blamed, because they knew ahead of time. But I can imagine they want to stay here longer because there are lots of stern and tough measures taken by their own government so we have to be careful here. We can’t take it lightly. People are vulnerable and we have been quite lenient,” he said.