KOTA KINABALU Feb 9 — Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Arifin has welcomed the federal government’s proposal to reopen Malaysia’s borders to tourists, but said this must come with clear standard operating procedures (SOPs) to mitigate Covid-19 risks.

He said Sabah was looking forward to welcoming foreign tourists again, who have been absent during the pandemic that was now two years’ old.

“The opening of our borders needs to happen as soon as possible as Sabah needs the international market to help the tourism industry recover.

“The National Security Council and the Health Ministry need to make the guidelines clear to industry players so they can prepare for an influx of travellers,” he said.

He said his state ministry was prepared to meet with industry players to make early plans like promotion and marketing to ensure Sabah would be a destination of choice for global travellers.

He said that the state was working on proposal to require travel insurance to cover the usual travel-related risks and also included incidental Covid-19 infection.

“The goal is to open our borders for the tourism industry to survive, while ensuring that we control the spread of Covid-19,” he said, adding that the state has been relying on domestic tourism.

He said that the state has been in talks with Singapore for a vaccinated travel lane (VTL), which has yet to pan out.

Sabah’s tourism industry was among its biggest job creators and top income earners in 2019, when it raked in tourism receipts of RM9.01 billion with 4,195,903 tourist arrivals. One of the factors that contributed to the success was direct and chartered international flights to Sabah.

Yesterday, the National Recovery Council (NRC) proposed that the country’s international borders be fully reopened without any mandatory quarantine by next month.

NRC chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said, however, visitors should still undergo Covid-19 tests prior to and upon arriving in the country, as recommended by MoH.