Back to the real world — by Leesan

Now that the columnist is home safe, he ponders what the future holds for the tourism industry stakeholders in Malaysia.

Incoming international passengers and flight crew waiting to be screened at Klia on March 24. Many people were not practising social distance. — photos: leesan

RECENTLY, our ship was stranded in the Atlantic, somewhere off the coast of South America, while on the way back from our 16-day Antarctica expedition. We were stranded because many nations started to impose lockdowns and close their borders, and we weren’t able to dock anywhere.

Our brilliant French Captain

Our calm, positive-minded and sharp-witted captain kept reminding everyone on the ship to help one another during the stressful ordeal. At the same time, he was also busy negotiating with the authorities of several countries to let our ship dock. After seven days of getting turned down and seemingly sailing aimlessly at sea, the captain finally managed to send 191 passengers (from 15 nations) aboard the ship safely back to their home.

We were so thankful to our responsible and dutiful French captain for doing a great job.

There were only 25 positive Covid-19 cases in Malaysia when I set off for Antarctica in late February. And by the time I came back on March 24, the coronavirus could be found in as many as 180 nations, with Malaysia reporting over a thousand cases (the number is over 4,000 now).

Also, before I left the country, Pakatan Harapan was still very much in charge of the country. With the political and economic situation now and the virus spreading, I really hope our new “Captain” can put things back in order, and be fair to every one of us.

Our home-bound flight took us across three continents and two oceans. During the 15-hour journey, every passenger onboard wasoverwhelmed with joy in anticipation of seeing our loved ones at home. However, something happened at the airport in Dubai where we had our transit. It took us completely off guard.

Emirates made the announcement to suspend most of its flights. As a result, the airport was packed with passengers on transit from the West, who were obviously anxious to rush home. Even with masks on, I could see fear and disappointment in everyone’s eyes. Apparently, the Covid-19 situation had gotten worse. Major airlines had suspended their services. For the few still flying, airfares were many times the normal rate.

Outside the terminal building, hundreds of grounded airplanes lay neatly on the apron. Everything was frozen, frightful and grim.

‘Live’ from Antarctica: ‘Hi everyone, let’s focus on combating the Covid-19 now!’

Weirdly, even though the situation was becoming more precarious, the Dubai airport authorities appeared to take things casually. As a matter of fact, the screening procedures at our own Kuala Lumpur International Airport were equally lax. They did not verify our personal particulars, giving us an advice slip instead, telling us to begin self-quarantine measures. (From what I know, the tracking wristbands issued by Sarawak authorities at the Kuching International Airport are far more efficient when it comes to quarantine enforcement).

You can imagine just how relieved the passengers on our flight, especially those arriving from the United States and Europe, were when they were told that they could go back to their own accommodation. I realised that if any of us were infected, it would be quite difficult to track every passenger on the flight.

Weirdly, even though the situation was becoming more precarious, the Dubai airport authorities appeared to take things casually. As a matter of fact, the screening procedures at our own Kuala Lumpur International Airport were equally lax. They did not verify our personal particulars, giving us an advice slip instead, telling us to begin self-quarantine measures. (From what I know, the tracking wristbands issued by Sarawak authorities at the Kuching International Airport are far more efficient when it comes to quarantine enforcement).

You can imagine just how relieved the passengers on our flight, especially those arriving from the United States and Europe, were when they were told that they could go back to their own accommodation. I realised that if any of us were infected, it would be quite difficult to track every passenger on the flight.

Luckily, mandatory quarantine for everyone arriving in Malaysia started on April 3 and designated quarantine centres have been made available for them. I understand that being in quarantine is no fun at all but I didn’t want to make things more difficult for our devoted frontliners and willingly complied with the self-quarantine requirement.

To be honest, our Health Ministry has done a superb job in handling the situation and in the ongoing fight against the spread of the virus. That said, the movement control order (MCO) should not be extended for too long. We need to zero in on specific targets and get the virus purged real soon.

My friends were worried about me being stranded at sea. One of them said, “It’s good to be home again, but let me warn you, the MCO is no joke. You could get constipation, insomnia, anxiety and depression!”

I laughed and responded: “Cheer up, man! You’ll also be annoyed and pestered, but at least by family and loved ones!”

A normally congested Federal Highway is all quiet during the MCO.


Home visit check up and 14-day self-quarantine was compulsory for a peace of mind.

*The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 132 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.

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Published in STAR 2, 11 Apr 2020

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李桑 作者

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