Malaysians in Singapore buoyed by home quarantine option, but approvals less straightforward than expected
JOHOR BAHRU: Durian seller Louis Lee has not seen his wife and two young children for a year.
The 31-year-old from Muar is among the thousands of Malaysians who are working in Singapore away from their loved ones, stranded by prolonged border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee told CNA that he refrained from going back to visit his family because of the quarantine costs.
On Aug 8, former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced that fully vaccinated Malaysians and permanent residents (PR) returning from overseas will be able to serve their quarantine at home beginning Aug 10.
The announcement has been welcomed by many Malaysians based in Singapore, with many now planning to head back home, including Lee who would like to go back to visit his family under the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) scheme.
He explained that he would save at least RM2,100 (S$680) in accommodation and food spent on serving quarantine in the hotel upon arrival in Malaysia.
“I can finally see them. My wife misses me and she says she has been depressed because I’ve been away from home for so long,” said Lee.
“Now, the 14 days spent taking leave from work can be spent at home straight away with my family. It’s a big positive,” he added.
However, many Malaysians soon found out that home quarantine was not automatically granted to every one arriving at the entry points.
The Health Ministry has since clarified that travellers entering Malaysia via Johor may submit an application to undergo mandatory quarantine at their home at least seven days prior to their arrival.
The application process is not that straightforward, said those interviewed by CNA. Due to the high volume of applications, they may have to wait for a long time for a reply, and some of their applications were rejected without very clear explanation, they added.
HOME QUARANTINE NOT GRANTED TO EVERYONE: KHAIRY
In a press conference on Wednesday (Sep 1), Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin outlined that less than a quarter of people who have applied for home quarantine have been given approval, stressing that this was contingent on “strict risk assessment by the ministry”.
"As of Aug 10, around 20,000 people have applied for home quarantine. However, we do not grant home quarantine for everyone,” said Khairy.
"So far the ministry has only approved 4,159 applications and this is based on strict risk assessment that includes their vaccination status, test and travel history,” he added.
The minister added that around 400 travellers were being monitored with digital tracking bracelets in a pilot programme, and the ministry was looking to roll this out to more people.
According to announcements made by Malaysia’s Ministry of Health, those interested to apply for home quarantine may submit a form for approval.
Applicants are also required to submit supporting documents such as their full vaccination record and their home address in Malaysia.
There are two different email addresses to submit the applications to, depending on whether one is entering via Johor or other border checkpoints.
In the form, applicants are also required to specify some details such as the number of people living in the address where they are serving home quarantine, the number of senior citizens, kids and those with illnesses, as well as the number of rooms and rooms with adjoining bathrooms.
SOME TRAVELLERS ATTAINED APPROVAL
Lee, the durian seller, had planned to take 60 days off from managing his durian store at Owen Road. He told CNA he applied for home quarantine on Aug 23 before travelling to Johor via Woodlands Checkpoint the next day as “he had to travel home urgently”.
He was sent to a hotel for mandatory quarantine upon arrival and the approval for home quarantine came on Aug 30, the eighth day of his quarantine in the hotel.
“I was so relieved, I actually never thought it would be approved. I was already mentally prepared to serve the full 14 days in the hotel, and foot the entire cost,” Lee said.
Lee stays with his wife, two young children, and two parents in a three-room home in Muar.
Despite his relief, Lee expressed concern that the approval took “quite long” and that there was more paperwork than he anticipated.
“When they first announced that home quarantine would be allowed, I immediately started packing because I was so excited. But it has not been as easy as I thought. I’ve had to spend a week serving quarantine at a hotel, not knowing if my application would be approved. There was so much uncertainty,” he added.
He is aware that he would still have to pay S$2,000 in quarantine costs when re-entering Singapore, but he is relieved that the total he has to fork out for the trip is still less than it was before August.
Another Malaysian Vanessa Toh, who works as a nurse in a public hospital in Singapore, has also been successful with an application for home quarantine. Toh had been eagerly awaiting rules to be relaxed for people who are fully vaccinated. She received her second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in February.
“I have not seen my parents since December 2019 and it’s just been too long,” said Toh, who plans to travel to her home in Kulai, Johor.
Toh received confirmation that her request to serve home quarantine when she travels back in October was approved on Aug 30. However, she noted that the process has not been smooth.
When she first tried submitting her form on Aug 11, the email bounced as the inbox was full. She submitted her application again when the government announced that incoming travellers from Johor should email cprcjknj [at] moh.gov.my instead of hso [at] moh.gov.my.
“The process has not been straightforward,” Toh said.
“There have been issues along the way. But I’m happy to eventually get approval,” Toh added.
OTHER APPLICATIONS REJECTED
A Malaysian salesperson based in Singapore, who wanted to be known only as Lara, told CNA that she has tried submitting the forms twice, but was rejected both times. She recently received a rejection note on Aug 30.
Lara had submitted the completed form and the necessary supporting documents but she said she received the same email reply, within 24 hours, informing her that her applications were rejected.
“I don’t really know why I was rejected. I’ve been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine … I live in a three-bedroom terrace house in Bukit Indah area with my family,” she said.
In the email reply seen by CNA, the health ministry stated that her appeal for home quarantine was not approved because she was “travelling from a high-risk country” with reported transmission of COVID-19 in the community. It also said that her home was “not suitable for quarantine”.
“The reason (they gave) is weird, but there is no hotline I can call to clarify, so maybe I will tweak my application slightly and try again. It’s frustrating,” Lara added.
Another Malaysian working in Singapore, who only wanted to be known as Salmah, told CNA that her application for home quarantine was rejected with a similar reply when she submitted her documents in August.
Her home, a two-room flat in Larkin, Johor, only has one other occupant, her elderly mother.
She had planned to go home in August but would now delay her travel plans until home quarantine is approved.
“I have tried applying once in August, but since the latest announcement specifically for those travelling via Johor, I have not sent in anything,” said Salmah.
“I will try again soon,” she added.
Another Malaysian traveller Wilfred Yap, who is currently serving quarantine in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur after arriving from Singapore on Aug 25, told CNA that he has submitted his application for home quarantine three times to both emails, and has yet to receive a reply.
The 34-year-old, who works for a computer-chip manufacturer, said that the last time he submitted was on Aug 30.
“I’ve tried asking the hotel staff and the health ministry officials at the airport, but they told me to just wait for the email reply. I’m not sure why they just can’t grant approval by interviewing me in person,” said Yap.
In a Facebook post on Aug 28, the health ministry posted a notice to reassure travellers that their applications are being considered.
“Attention to travellers who are applying for home quarantine, your application will be reviewed,” the notice said.
“The HSO email is receiving a high number of emails and therefore the response time is longer than usual. Please do not send repeated emails and this will overload the system,” it added.