Warwick ASEAN Conference

My journey back to the UK in the midst of a pandemic

I have written this article with the aim of elucidating my personal experience returning to the UK from Malaysia for the start of the 2020/2021 academic term. Like many other UK universities, Imperial College London has given all their students an option to do their Autumn term online (distant e-learning) with respect to the different circumstances that everyone is facing during this horrible pandemic. However, given that the nature of my course -Mechanical Engineering- is a bit more rigorous and hands-on, I have decided to return, so to make full use of the £30,000 tuition fees I am paying, despite the alarming number of Covid19 cases abroad.

The United Kingdom & Eire Council (UKEC) is closely in touch with the Malaysian High Commission London and Education Malaysia London to monitor and advise students on the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) if they wish to return to the UK from Malaysia or vice versa. The SOP changes almost every week so I strongly advise readers to follow @ukec and @educationmalaysialondon on Facebook and Instagram for the latest travel updates. If you have any queries or concerns, feel free to contact UKEC via their social media as they usually respond almost immediately to provide you with the necessary advice and assistance.

Before Departure

When I flew back from London in early March, I purchased a return ticket from London to Singapore via British Airways (BA). During this time, Malaysia had already implemented the interstate travel ban and I was afraid that if I flew directly to Kuala Lumpur, I might not be allowed to return home to Penang. However, when September came, Singapore had barred all Malaysians from entering the country for non-essential business under the Green Lane travel restrictions and thus, I had to request for a refund for my BA tickets (I was compensated with a travel voucher that is valid until 2022) and purchased a new one.

As of 11th August 2020, Malaysia has been added to the UK travel corridor list. That means that everyone flying directly from Malaysia to any of the UK airports are not required to self-isolate at home for 14 days. This was only possible through Malaysia Airlines (MAS) as MAS is the only airline offering direct flights to the UK from Malaysia, but note that the price of a one-way ticket is ridiculously expensive (> £1500). I was not ready to pay that amount of money, so I opted for Qatar Airways instead, whose tickets cost me a mere £250; this option did however mean that I had to transit via Doha and self-quarantine for 14 days in the UK.

A few things you need to note before your departure from Malaysia to the UK:
Pic 1: Passenger Locator Form

As per the requirements set by the UK government, you will need to provide your journey and contact details through the Passenger Locator Form within 48 hours of your arrival in the UK. This form can be presented either digitally on your phone or via a physical copy.

On the form, you’ll need to fill in:

  • Your passport details
  • The name of the airline, train, or ferry company – you’re travelling with
  • The name of the company organizing your tour group – if you’re traveling as part of a tour group
  • Your flight booking reference
  • The name of the airport, port, or station you’ll be arriving into
  • The date you’ll be arriving
  • Your flight, train, bus, or ferry number
  • The address you’ll be staying at during your first 14 days in the UK
  • Details of someone who can be contacted if you get ill while you’re in the UK

Do note that you will be asked to fill in a form at the KLIA immigration gate, which waives your right to return to Malaysia during the RMCO period (31st December 2020). However, students will still be allowed to return under mitigating circumstances, if an application is made via email kpi@imi.gov.my, requesting the Immigration Department’s approval prior to your flight’s departure.

Pic 2: KLIA main entrance (departure level) with thermal cameras installed
During the flight

On most, if not, all flights, all passengers will be required to wear a mask throughout the entire journey. Qatar Airways is currently the only airline that requires you to wear a face shield on the flight, but that will be provided by the aircrews at the boarding gate prior to your flight.

Pic 3: Face Shield provided by Qatar Airways

Most of the flights by all operating airlines are fully booked so do not be surprised if the seat next to you is not empty. The social distancing policy varies across airlines so do check them beforehand if it concerns you. I would definitely advise you to ‘mask-up’ at all times throughout your travel journey and bring your own hand sanitizer to clean your hands regularly. Most airlines (MAS, Etihad, Emirates, Qatar) however, do provide passengers with their own respective health packs containing a mask, hand sanitizer, and gloves.

Pic 4: Health Pack provided by Qatar Airways

Overall, I had a sense of security whilst traveling from Malaysia to the UK seeing how strict the regulations that were imposed by the airport security and the operating airlines. were They have numerous safety measures in place to ensure all passengers travel with comfort and peace in mind.

Upon Reaching the UK

You are required to provide the following documentation at the UK immigration gate:

  • Passenger locator form (both digital and physical copy accepted)
  • Student visa/ BRP/ student card

To reiterate, Malaysia is included in the list of corridor countries exempted from having to self-isolate upon arrival in the UK. However, this is conditional to the fact that you don’t have any transit stops in any other country that are not on the list. For example, if you are traveling via Doha, you will still need to self-isolate yourself for a period of 14 days upon arrival in the UK. You can choose to quarantine at any venue that you desire whether it is at your home, a hotel, or an Airbnb. No quarantine centers are provided by the government so if you wish to self-isolate at a hotel or Airbnb, you will have to personally arrange the booking and costs.

Do note that the UK government is not as strict as the Malaysian government with the quarantine regulations. The immigration officer at the border control gate did not even provide me with a formal notice or remind me verbally of the mandatory 14 days self-isolation I am obligated to undergo. You are allowed to travel freely on any public transportation (bus or tube), although, the website does advise you to avoid them and take a private car or uber/taxi where possible.

In a nutshell, the decision on whether to return to the UK or not is up to each individual. Covid19 regulations here are definitely more lenient as compared to Malaysia. Approximately 30% of the public members do not wear masks when they go out and the UK government does not track the public’s movement such as that in Malaysia (MySejahtera). However, based on my own personal experience thus far, I still feel a sense of security and comfort for the past one week I have been here. 

Stay safe and happy travels!

Listed below are a number of web links that will hopefully address any further questions you may have regarding the pandemic in Malaysia:

https://www.coronatracker.com/country/malaysia/: This is the only independent World Health Organisation recognized one-stop platform for verified COVID’19 related data and news in Malaysia

http://covid-19.moh.gov.my/: This informs you of the various COVID’19 clusters within Malaysia

https://www.malaysiaairlines.com/my/en/advisory/exit-requirement-for-malaysians-from-malaysia.html: This informs you of the exit requirements Malaysians will have to adhere to if they choose to leave the country

https://www.malaysiaairlines.com/my/en/advisory/14-day-mandatory-quarantine.html: This informs you of the list of countries Malaysia has placed an entry ban on, it also informs you of the mandatory 14-day self-isolation the Malaysian government has implemented for all international arrivals

https://www.malaysiaairlines.com/my/en/advisory/important-notice.html: Malaysia Airlines has created a page specifically dedicated to answering all the COVID’19 related frequently asked questions; this page also includes a number of helpful weblinks.

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