When the Covid-19 pandemic effectively shut down the border between close neighbours Singapore and Malaysia, the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people were put at risk,
These were mainly Malaysians crossing the border to work in Singapore daily, as well as Singaporean companies who hire large amounts of Malaysian workers.
Now, the 2 countries will finally soon work out a process to allow the hordes of daily commuters to resume their pre-Covid-19 working lives, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan after a bilateral meeting on Sunday (26 Jul).
The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) had told the public that the Causeway from Singapore to Johor Baru would be closed on Sunday (26 Jul) morning between the foreign ministers of Singapore and Malaysia.
In a Facebook post shortly after, Dr Balakrishnan revealed what went on during the meeting with his counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein, which took place right at the boundary so neither had to cross borders.
According to Dr Balakrishnan, arrangements to allow people to cross the Singapore-Malaysia border for official business and work have been finalised.
These are under 2 schemes:
Applications for these 2 schemes will start on 10 Aug.
Eligible travellers on these 2 schemes will have to undergo Covid-19 swab tests.
Previously on 14 Jul, Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Hishammuddin had issued a joint statement on an agreement between both countries on the RGL and PCA.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Dr Balakrishnan also revealed that with the arrangements for the RGL and PCA finalised, the next step is to propose arrangements for those who have to cross the border daily for work.
The 2 countries have already agreed to develop proposals for these groups of people, he was quoted by The Straits Times as saying.
However, to ensure the safety of both citizens, there will undoubtedly be health protocols to follow, he added.
One of these will include “regular comprehensive testing” on both sides, he added,
So the other parameter is also the availability of mass-scale testing on both sides of the Causeway.
It seems like those who want to resume their cross-border work commute may have to wait a few weeks more.
That’s the timeframe Dr Balakrishnan gave for them to monitor the figures in Singapore and Johor to ensure the outbreak is being controlled well in both places.
There will also be a lot of operational details to sort out, he said.
In a simlar Facebook post, Mr Hishammuddin also made reference to daily cross-border movement.
He said it will be the “3rd category” after RGL and PGA.
The 4th category refers to borders being fully open.
Dr Balakrisnan, in his interview, also mentioned that both countries are working on making arrangements for those who need to cross the border for compassionate reasons.
Some of their pleas are urgent, as they need to return to see dying loved ones for one last time.
Thus, arrangements to help this smaller group will go forward.
Malaysia’s lockdown, which started on 18 Mar, had caused much scrambling to make alternative arrangements.
Scores of Malaysians rushed to enter Singapore before the lockdown took effect so they could continue working in their jobs, leaving behind loved ones and facing homeless in Singapore.
In Singapore, companies had to find alternative accommodation for their Malaysian workers. Some kind-hearted souls opened up their homes to house displaced Malaysian workers.
Although Malaysia’s lockdown has been relaxed somewhat, travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines between countries still exist, and the commute hasn’t gone back to pre-Covid-19 levels, which saw more than 300,000 cross the border every day.
For most of Singaporeans who have a life and job in Singapore, we’ll be looking to Mr Hishammuddin’s 4th category, so we can resume our weekend day trips to Johor Baru for shopping and eating.
However, our leisure desires aren’t as important as the needs of many who need to make the crossing to earn a living or to reunite with loved ones.
Thus, we’ll wait patiently for a day when the borders fully open without restrictions like the good old days before Covid-19.
Till then, let’s do our best to contain the spread in Singapore so that borders will open as soon as possible.
Featured image adapted from Facebook.
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