KOTA KINABALU, Dec 4 — Sabah is gradually re-opening its borders again, starting by allowing social visits from Malaysians, long-term immigration pass holders, as well as family members of resident Sabahans.

Sabah Covid-19 spokesman Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said that the state is relaxing the standard operating procedures (SOP) for travellers to Sabah ahead of the upcoming Christmas and holiday season as well as to prepare the state to welcome domestic tourists again.

“We are preparing to normalise domestic travel again soon. There are a lot of families separated for long periods of time during this conditional movement control order, so we would like to facilitate their reunion.

“Let the Christians who want to come home for Christmas be reunited with their families, so for this we will relax some of the restrictions in place,” he said during a virtual press conference held today.

The relaxed entry requirements will still mean that visitors have to go through a swab test of RT-PCR or RT Antigen three days before, but will no longer require police approval.

“Basically, the categories of people who can travel into Sabah now have been widened. Previously, the authorities were strict on who could travel and required written approval from the police,” he said.

Now, holders of MyKad, MyPR, MyKAS, long-term immigration pass holders as well as spouses and dependents of Sabah residents are permitted entry.

When asked whether the Immigration and state Health Department are ready to process the influx of travellers, Masidi said it is unlikely there would be a sudden flood of visitors given that public awareness of the risks of infection of Covid 19 is still high.

“I don’t think that because we are opening our gates again there will be flood of people suddenly. People are still cautious. I think the entry will be dependent on the current situation. People are still weighing the risks of whether or not to travel,” he said.

When asked when the new SOP will come into effect and whether the updated SOP will allow inter district travel for such travellers, Masidi said that an announcement is expected to be made by Senior Minister (Defence) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob tomorrow.

“I’m making this statement slightly earlier. Tomorrow the senior minister will make another announcement that is related.

“I believe when you allow people to come here, they won’t just want to be in Kota Kinabalu. So let’s hope everything goes well and the situation improves,” he said.

Sabah’s current CMCO is due to end on December 6, but it is widely believed that there will be an extension but with certain changes to the SOPs allowing the economy to recover.

Meanwhile, Masidi also announced that eateries could open till midnight starting tomorrow.

Previously, the state only allowed eateries to open till 10pm despite the national SOP allowing longer operational hours.

The state is also preparing to open its museum galleries again starting December 15.

“This will be in starting with the state museum, the Muslim Civilisation Museum, the Locomotive gallery and the Heritage village. Those in Sandakan and Semporna will open at a later date,” he said.