Sabah to push for VTL with countries with restricted borders

The state will discuss ways to establish air Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) to Sabah with regional countries that have yet to open their borders.

Assistant Tourism, Culture, and Environment Minister Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said VTL is a necessary stimulus to contribute to the state's economy while emphasising that the Ministry and industry players were ready to welcome tourists.

"The Ministry has frequently carried out engagements in this matter and as such, the Ministry has submitted a proposal to the Sabah Covid-19 Disaster Management Committee to implement the VTL between Kota Kinabalu and Singapore.

"Based on our interactions with industry players, we know they are prepared. However, we must make recommendations to the state disaster committee, which includes the National Security Council, the Health Ministry, and other related departments and agencies, so they can assess the risk of implementing the VTL.

"We have done that but there has been no decision to start a VTL for Sabah yet," he said during the question-and-answer session at the Sabah assembly sitting, on Monday.

Joniston was responding to questions raised by nominated assemblyman Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee (SAPP), Phoong Jin Zhe (DAP-Luyang), and Sri Tanjong's Justin Wong.

According to him, the Ministries of Tourism, Arts, and Culture; Transportation; and Health, and the National Security Council are in charge of the VTL implementation process, with counterparts in other countries.

He also stated that when the country's border reopened on April 1, there would be no need for VTL, with the exception of countries that remained closed.

"For countries that have not opened their borders, the Ministry will take steps to discuss VTL implementation with them," he added.

Joniston emphasised that his Ministry also undertook ongoing engagement sessions with airlines, like Malaysia Airlines (MAS), Cebu Pacific Air, Scoot, Jeju Air, and Air Seoul who have decided to begin direct flights to Sabah.

In response to a supplementary question from Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (Warisan-Senallang), Joniston remarked that connectivity between cities and towns in Sabah and other Malaysian states is important for boosting domestic tourism.

He expressed optimism that airlines would expand flight frequencies to domestic destinations in response to increased demand.

To this end, Sabah already has direct flights from Penang to Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Terengganu to Kota Kinabalu, Johor Bahru to Kota Kinabalu, and Kota Bharu to Kota Kinabalu, among others.

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