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Malaysians, Indonesians cheer easing of Singapore's border restrictions, but still hesitant about visiting home

Malaysians, Indonesians cheer easing of Singapore's border restrictions, but still hesitant about visiting home

A view of the Causeway on Aug 17, 2020. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

SINGAPORE: Malaysians and Indonesians living in Singapore are feting the relaxation of travel restrictions on their home countries, but many are still hesitant about booking a trip back as administrative challenges remain, said residents CNA spoke to.

Last Saturday (Oct 23), the two countries were among the numerous destinations upgraded to Category III under Singapore’s border measure classifications based on COVID-19 risks.

Quarantine restrictions were also loosened for this category, with travellers allowed to serve their stay-home notice at their own accommodation, instead of at a dedicated facility.

Individuals from Malaysia and Indonesia – two of Singapore’s closest neighbours – said the move has been a long time coming, following months of border measures that have made it difficult to return, despite only being a short trip away.

"MY HEART ACHES TO RETURN AGAIN"

When the news broke, the Malaysian community here was “ecstatic”, said Michelle Ng, a founding member of Telegram group "Malaysians Working in Singapore".

Ms Ng’s first thought was that she might be able to reunite with her family, after having not seen them for more than a year.

“My heart aches to return again,” said the 38-year-old from Kuala Lumpur, who used to visit Malaysia four to five times a year.

“It’s been very hard as I’m quite close with my family. I can’t even imagine how it is for people who travelled over the causeway every day.”

She is now submitting paperwork to arrange a two-week visit in November – but not without some concern. “To be honest, at this point, anything can happen and we don’t know how fast rules can change again,” said Ms Ng, who currently works in the health tech industry.

STILL THINKING ABOUT IT

Unlike Ms Ng, many others are not taking the plunge to return home yet, as bigger administrative challenges remain.

Malaysian national Ms Serene Yap is mulling the decision because travellers must still serve a 10-day stay-home notice, even if it is at their own residence.

“I’m in retail, so of course I cannot work-from-home (during the quarantine period). I have to take my own leave ... My leave is not much, so I will have to work it out.”

The 40-year-old, who runs a gold jewellery shop, used to go to Johor Bahru every weekend to visit her father.

While she wants to see him as he just underwent a small operation, she is also concerned about the COVID-19 situation in Malaysia.

“Even my father also advised me: ‘You don’t come back now. I’m very okay.’ He, himself, also feels uncomfortable when going out because people there (do) not really care so much about the virus.”

NO PLACE TO SERVE STAY-HOME NOTICE

On the flip side, some Singaporeans living in Malaysia are hesitant about coming back as they have no residence to serve their stay-home notice in.

That includes 58-year-old retiree Mr Jamaludin Abdul Ghani, who wants to visit family here, including a grandson and granddaughter he has not yet met.

But he said: “My eldest daughter is preparing to shift to a new house and it’s a hassle for her to accommodate me for quarantine ... My other kids stay in three-room flats and also have kids, so where are they going to put me?”

Even then, quarantining at home might be risky. “My grandkids are very young. If they get the virus from me, I will regret for life.”

Quarantine after returning to Malaysia will be another issue, as his wife has chronic diseases and his mother-in-law is elderly, but staying in a hotel costs a lot, he said.

“So we have to be patient lah ... Wait for a while, see what’s the next outcome (if the rules are further relaxed),” said Mr Jamaludin, who lives in Kuala Lumpur.

GOING BACK TO INDONESIA?

Indonesian nationals that CNA spoke to also expressed joy over the news, though they have not made plans to return.

Mr Indradi Soemardjan, 46, said: “This is what we’ve been waiting for because (our kids) haven’t seen grandmas and grandpas for almost two years.”

The news is also much welcomed as he runs a business importing coffee beans from Indonesia. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had to return every month to manage logistics and meet with farmers.

“I’ve been talking to business partners in Indonesia about what we are going to do for the next three months. Previously, it was very hard, there was no light at the end of tunnel ... but now, we can feel slightly better about it,” said Mr Indradi, who also runs a cafe, Soma Coffee.

His next hope is for a Vaccinated Travel Lane to be established, allowing quarantine-free travel. This would also boost local medical tourism, which is popular with Indonesians, noted Mr Indradi.

Ms Erlina Husada, a 39-year-old fintech product designer, added that the restrictions have been difficult, especially after she lost a family member in Jakarta to COVID-19.

“Everything was so difficult there, and the magnitude of you just being alone here, unable to go there, it was very tough for us.”

And while the easing of restrictions is good news, her family is still thinking hard about going back.

“We are still quite cautious, because everything can change within just one week or a few days, the rules, the situation. As parents to two young kids, we take that into consideration.

“We are just taking time to really pause and consider a lot of things first before we make the commitment to book our tickets,” said Ms Erlina.

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Source: CNA/cl(zl)

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