SINGAPORE: Some Malaysians who make the daily commute to Singapore for work began making preparations on Tuesday (Mar 17) for temporary housing, following Putrajaya's announcement barring citizens from leaving the country as part of a restricted movement order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
On Monday night, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that all Malaysians will be prohibited from leaving the country from Mar 18 to Mar 31. Those who return from overseas will also have to go through health checks and go on a 14-day self-quarantine.
As of noon on Tuesday, it is unclear if the restriction would apply to some 300,000 Malaysians who travel across the Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link every day for work.
READ: Malaysia bars citizens from going overseas, foreigners from entering country for 2 weeks to curb COVID-19 spread: PM Muhyiddin
One of them, Mr Hakeym Osman, who rides his motorcycle between Johor Bahru and Singapore five days a week, told CNA that he brought over luggage filled with his personal effects to his office in Tuas on Tuesday morning.
“I will go in and stay in Singapore for two weeks, and I’ve brought enough clothes to last me. I hope to stay with a friend, and if that fails, I will sleep in the office or find a backpacker's hostel. I cannot afford to not report for work for two weeks; I will lose my job,” said Mr Hakeym, who works in construction.
“I’m new with the company. What if the lockdown is more than two weeks? I am not taking any chances so today I have brought with me a huge backpack with toiletries and clothes and some money,” he added.
Another Johor resident who works in Singapore, Mr Razali Tompang, told CNA that the traffic congestion from Johor Bahru into Singapore via the Woodlands Causeway was “worse than usual” on Tuesday morning.
“A lot of motorcycle riders were also bringing huge bags. I asked, some of them said they will be staying over in Singapore during the period Malaysia blocks entry and exit,” he added.
Mr Razali said he would be meeting his team on Tuesday to discuss how he could work from home during the next fortnight.
“For me, my company has a business continuity plan to work from home, but we have never activated it before. I will be the first to try it probably,” he added.
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Mr Razali also expressed concern on how Mr Muhyiddin’s speech did not address the concerns of many Malaysians who commute to Singapore for work.
“I'm very shocked by the announcement, and I don't really know what will happen. From what I understand, it’s a blanket ban on all Malaysians from leaving the country. Around 300,000 Johoreans commute every day and some of us might lose our jobs because we will be missing in action for two weeks,” he added.
Mr Jason Han, a Johor resident who works as an associate engineer at Creative Technology in Jurong, shared similar sentiments.
He said he had heard rumours that work permit pass holders would be exempted from the movement restriction order.
However as of Tuesday morning, there has been no confirmation by the Malaysia government that this was indeed the case.
He is concerned and has made plans to travel back to Johor Bahru later on Tuesday to collect his clothes and important items and stay in Singapore until the movement restriction order is lifted.
“I need to be in the office to function because I’m a hardware expert. So I will leave my mother and wife behind and stay in Singapore for as long as I need,” said Mr Han.
“I’m not too worried about my family, I can talk to them on WhatsApp. This thing is worrying but I’ll take it day by day,” he added.
POSSIBLE HALT OF VEGETABLES IMPORT
Besides regular commuters, Malaysian truck drivers who deliver fruits and vegetables to Singapore are also concerned that the latest travel restrictions could impact their livelihood.
Mr Loo Chin Khong, who delivers vegetables from Cameron Highlands to Singapore for a logistics company at least three times a week, told CNA he expects deliveries across the Causeway to stop when the restriction kicks in on Wednesday (Mar 18).
“I will drop off vegetables in JB, and make a U-turn back to Pahang. I’m worried that if I get through the Causeway before midnight, I will not be allowed back into Malaysia,” he added.
He added that he was prepared to continue delivering vegetables to Singapore, but could not risk being stuck.
“We’ll see if the authorities will make exceptions. I’m prepared to work and continue my routine to deliver vegetables because Singaporeans need their vegetables,” said Mr Loo.
READ: Purchase limits imposed at FairPrice supermarkets on vegetables, rice, paper and other products
According to statistics from the Singapore Food Agency, Malaysia is Singapore’s top source of vegetables, supplying 69 per cent of the imported leafy vegetables.
Thygrace Marketing, a major vegetable importer in Singapore which brings in produce from across the Causeway, said there is still some doubt as to whether vegetables and fruits will be delivered across the Causeway.
Thygrace delivers to major supermarkets in Singapore such as NTUC Fairprice, Giant and Cold Storage.
Mr Kelvin Chye, managing director for Thygrace, said: “There will be a meeting later today between suppliers and importers to try and resolve this. But by right, the transport of vegetables and fruits across the Causeway should not be impacted.”
He said he was making other arrangements to transport vegetables from other countries like Indonesia, but this will be more costly and will translate to higher vegetable prices for Singapore consumers.
“The good thing about importing from Malaysia is that it is quick and cheap. The supermarkets order today, and they will be delivered the next day. For other countries, we need to pay air freight fees, and this will cause a big increase in prices,” he added.