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COVID vaccines

Malaysia and Singapore push mutual vaccine certificate recognition

Foreign ministers discuss Myanmar but leave it out of COVID-focused statement

Loading up a coronavirus vaccine dose in Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia and Singapore intend to work toward accepting each other's immunization certificates.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Malaysia and Singapore are preparing for mutual recognition of coronavirus vaccination certificates in an effort to revive travel, the two countries' foreign ministers said on Tuesday.

Malaysia's Hishammuddin Hussein hosted Singapore's Vivian Balakrishnan, who is making the regional rounds this week with a visit to Brunei on Monday and a trip to Indonesia coming up. The two ministers were expected to talk about the worsening crisis in Myanmar, but a joint statement issued after their meeting did not mention the matter.

A statement issued later by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefly confirmed that they "discussed the situation in Myanmar" as well as Association of Southeast Asian Nations "support for Myanmar's return to national reconciliation and stability."

Hishammuddin and Balakrishnan's joint statement instead focused on stimulating a recovery from the pandemic, saying that Malaysia and Singapore will "work towards recognizing each other's vaccine certificates, with a view towards facilitating cross-border travel in the future."

Vaccine certificates, or "vaccine passports" as some are calling them, offer a way for individuals to prove they have been inoculated against COVID-19. As coronavirus immunization campaigns gather momentum around the world, many countries and territories have begun considering how to issue and use such passes, generally in the form of digital certificates on smartphones.

For individuals who have yet to be vaccinated, negative PCR test results could substitute in some cases.

Earlier in March, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations started discussing a common digital vaccine certificate. Reciprocal recognition by Malaysia and Singapore could be a step toward regional certification.

Yet the details of the bilateral program have not been ironed out. The statement said key points such as requirements for mutual recognition, health protocols and application procedures "will be further deliberated and finalized by the two countries."

The neighbors' own vaccination campaigns are underway, with Singapore having administered about 792,000 doses as of March 15 while Malaysia was up to about 413,000 as of this past Saturday, according to the latest numbers from Our World in Data.

Separated by a strait, Malaysia and Singapore are uniquely interdependent. The one-hour air route linking Singapore with Kuala Lumpur was one of the world's busiest before the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Malaysians residing in the southern part of the country commuted to the city-state daily, providing Singaporean businesses a source of less expensive labor.

After a monthslong border closure due to COVID-19, the pair launched two schemes last August to allow essential travel to resume. On Tuesday, the foreign ministers also agreed to "progressively restore cross-border travel for other groups of travelers" in addition to the existing programs -- raising the prospect of a resumption of leisure travel.

The ministers' meeting followed Balakrishnan's one-day visit to Brunei, where the two countries expressed "deep concern" over violence in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup. Brunei holds ASEAN's rotating chairmanship this year, and countries including Indonesia and Malaysia have floated the idea of a special summit on the Myanmar crisis.

Balakrishnan is scheduled to remain in Malaysia until Wednesday.

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