SINGAPORE: Measures, safeguards and precautions have to be put in place before travel can resume between Singapore and Malaysia, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday (Jun 8).
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, was responding to media queries after Putrajaya said that talks are under way to allow Malaysians in Johor Bahru to commute to Singapore and back for work.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Wong said that negotiations with Malaysia was part of ongoing discussions with different countries.
“The same principle will apply … we will welcome these travellers. We want to see the resumption of travel, but it has to be done in a safe way. And that would mean looking at testing protocols in place on both sides,” he said.
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Mr Wong said that before such travel can resume, testing may have to be carried out, a quarantine period may have to be imposed, or a combination of both measures.
“Measures, safeguards and precautions have to be put in place to ensure the resumption of safe travel between Singapore and Malaysia, so we are discussing all these with our Malaysian counterparts, (including) exactly how many people, what kinds of protocols will be put in place and which industries (will be involved)," he added.
However, he noted that the volume of travel would not be as high as before.
“I think we are quite clear. It is not going to be back to where we were before the circuit breaker or before COVID-19 hit us. We are not talking about large volumes of daily commuters coming in and out freely," Mr Wong said.
“We are talking about resumption of travel, but in a controlled manner and in a safe manner for both sides. That's in our mutual interest."
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Earlier in the day, Malaysian Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the special ministerial meeting on the implementation of movement control order (MCO) has agreed to allow Malaysians to travel to and fro for work between Johor Bahru and Singapore.
“We are ready to ensure that they take COVID-19 tests ... If that is the condition required by the Singaporean government, that they take swab tests, we agree,” he said.
However, he said that the implementation will only start after the secretary-general of Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and his Singaporean counterpart wrap up their negotiations.
“If we can, we will approve the conditions they propose, and then only Malaysian workers who commute between Johor Bahru and Singapore can resume working again. We are still waiting,” said Mr Ismail Sabri.
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The senior minister said that with industries in Singapore operating again, they have requested for their Malaysian employees, who are in Johor Bahru, to commute to Singapore for work. Singapore exited the "circuit breaker" on Jun 1, with most economic sectors resuming operations.
Mr Ismail Sabri added that Sultan Ibrahim Johor Foundation and two Singapore companies, Temasek and Thomson Medical Group, have stepped forward to contribute two COVID-19 mobile labs and COVID-19 test kits.
In a press statement on Monday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it welcomes Malaysia's proposal to resume cross-border travel between the two countries.
"We are prepared to work with Malaysia to address the needs of cross-border travellers, including short-term business and official travellers and Malaysian workers who were previously commuting between Singapore and Malaysia," said MFA.
"Such proposed arrangements would have to include mutually agreed public health protocols to allow the safe resumption of cross-border movement."
It added that the time needed to work out the details would also depend on the COVID-19 situation in both countries.
"In the meantime, Singapore will continue with practical measures to enable Malaysians to continue working in Singapore," said MFA.
Malaysia's MCO has been in place since Mar 18, restricting domestic and international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, Singapore implemented a circuit breaker period from Apr 7 to Jun 1, which tightened border controls.
To break the chain of infection, both governments mandated a 14-day quarantine for people entering the countries. These measures made it impossible for Malaysians, who live in Johor but work in Singapore, to travel across the strait.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that the MCO will enter a “recovery phase" beginning Jun 10 until Aug 31. Under the recovery MCO, "almost all" social, educational, religious and business activities, as well as economic sectors will reopen in phases, with standard operating procedures to be adhered to.
While interstate travel is permitted, Malaysia's borders will remain closed.
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