SINGAPORE: Malaysian cargo drivers who deliver essentials such as fruits and vegetables to Singapore have welcomed the move by the Singapore Government to offer COVID-19 vaccinations.
With the vaccination, they hope that waiting time at the land checkpoints due to COVID-19 tests could be shortened.
On Monday (Mar 8), Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that selected cargo drivers and accompanying personnel who enter the country from Malaysia on a regular basis will be offered vaccinations later this month.
READ: COVID-19 vaccination: Malaysian cargo drivers will be selected based on frequency of travel to Singapore
MOH said that those who are eligible for the vaccination will be notified via a personalised SMS from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and will be contacted subsequently for an appointment to undergo vaccination at designated sites in Singapore.
Mr Loo Chin Khong, who transports vegetables from Cameron Highlands to Singapore thrice a week, told CNA he is hopeful that he will be one of the drivers selected for the vaccination.
Mr Loo said: "So far I've not gotten any SMS that I will be selected but I do want to be vaccinated. Definitely, I'd take it if offered."
"Vaccination will help us have peace of mind in our work. We interact with wholesalers and farmers across both sides of the border, so it is important to protect us and our families," said the 60-year-old, who lives with his wife and 10-year-old son in Cameron Highlands.
DRIVERS HOPEFUL CONGESTION AT CUSTOMS WILL EASE
Besides protecting him and loved ones from getting infected, Mr Loo expressed hope that if he and many of his other Malaysia cargo driver colleagues get vaccinated, it will ease the processing time to clear customs at the Causeway when entering Singapore.
In January, some drivers complained that they were experiencing delays at the land entry checkpoints after Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced that COVID-19 antigen rapid testing would be progressively rolled out for Malaysia cargo drivers delivering essential goods to Singapore.
READ: More than 3,000 chickens from Malaysia dead due to hot weather, checkpoint congestion, say poultry importers
In a joint statement, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said the delays were due to a combination of factors, including "IT technical issues" by a COVID-19 testing service provider.
Mr Loo recalled how the jam he experienced then was "horrendous" but he acknowledged that the situation has since improved, with around two hours each time on average over the last few weeks.
However, he still hoped this can be reduced further with the vaccination.
"We can make (the clearing process) faster. Hopefully drivers who are vaccinated may no longer need to take the COVID-19 test, this will move things along," added Mr Loo.
Another driver who wanted to be known only as Mr Muthukumar echoed similar sentiments.
Mr Muthukumar, who transports fruits and vegetables from his hometown in Bidor, Perak to Singapore twice a week, is also optimistic that vaccinations for cargo drivers will ease Causeway congestion.
He said that he experiences two to three hours of congestion when entering Singapore twice a week.
"Once we're vaccinated, hopefully there will be no need for the COVID-19 tests, so the process coming into Singapore will be faster. It will just make the whole journey smoother overall," said Mr Muthukumar.
DRIVERS LOOKING FORWARD TO MOVEMENT RESTRICTIONS BEING REDUCED
Mr K Sasikumar, a driver with SRGS Transport Agency who regularly transports fruits and vegetables from Johor to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre in Singapore, told CNA he is hopeful that restrictions imposed on drivers can be reduced after the vaccination is rolled out.
"I hope that if I get selected (for vaccination) I can proceed with flower deliveries. From March last year, I was no longer allowed to deliver flowers, only vegetables and fruits," added the 54-year-old.
Before March 2020, Mr Sasikumar would also deliver flowers to a florist at Upper Thomson Road after dropping off fruits and vegetables at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. However, he said that flower deliveries had stopped following the pandemic because he was not permitted to deliver non-essentials.
"It's added income for me, so I hope if I'm vaccinated, I am allowed to travel to other areas and make other deliveries," said Mr Sasikumar. "But pray I get selected first."
Mr Muthukumar also hoped the drivers will be allowed to "move more freely" while delivering vegetables in Singapore, once they are vaccinated.
"Right now, the rules are tight. We can't interact with wholesalers and we can't travel around Singapore to buy food or for an unscheduled stop," he said.
"Hopefully if drivers are vaccinated, these restrictions will no longer be there," added Mr Muthukumar.
QUICKER TO GET VACCINATED IN SINGAPORE THAN IN MALAYSIA: DRIVERS
Cargo drivers from Malaysia also said that they would likely take up the offer to get vaccinated in Singapore because they might need to wait longer for their turn in Malaysia.
Malaysia kicked off its national COVID-19 immunisation programme on Feb 24. The programme, which aims to immunise 80 per cent of the population by February 2022, is divided into three phases.
The first phase, which encompasses medical and non-medical frontliners, will take place from February to April.
As of Monday, more than 165,000 individuals have received the vaccine in the first phase.
The second phase, which runs from April until August, will cover senior citizens aged above 65 and other high-risk groups, while the final phase, from May until February next year, is targeted at the general adult population aged 18 and above.
The cargo drivers CNA spoke to said they would likely be vaccinated under Phase 3 as they are not considered frontliners.
Mr Sasikumar said: "I've registered for the (immunisation) programme via the MySejahtera app but it's not my turn yet. It could take months. If Singapore offers first, I'll take it."
Mr Loo shared similar views.
He said: "I think I will only be vaccinated under Phase 3 in Malaysia, and I prefer not to wait so long for this."
"Since Singapore is able to arrange for me to get jabbed faster, I'll do it if selected. I'm thankful the Singapore government is including us (in its vaccination programme) for free," he added.