SINGAPORE: The Singapore-Malaysia vaccinated travel lane (VTL) via the Causeway will be expanded to allow more groups of people to travel between both countries.
From Dec 20, Singapore citizens will be able to enter Malaysia, and Malaysia citizens will likewise be able to enter Singapore, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a press release on Tuesday (Dec 14).
There will be no change to the current test protocols in Singapore and Malaysia, added MTI.
All travellers entering Singapore will have to abide by the prevailing test protocols and safe management measures, which include the post-arrival 7-day COVID-19 antigen rapid test (ART) regime.
The first phase of the land VTL between Singapore and Malaysia had begun late last month, on the same day as the air VTL between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
There are currently 32 bus trips each way across the Causeway daily. The buses have a maximum capacity of 45 "fully seated" passengers per trip.
That means the daily quota for the land VTL scheme at present is about 2,900 travellers in total, with 1,440 passengers each way.
The services are operated by two companies. Transtar Travel operates 32 daily designated trips - 16 trips from Malaysia and 16 trips from Singapore - between Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange in Singapore and Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru.
Handal Indah similarly operates 32 daily trips between Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal and Queen Street Terminal in Singapore.
But under the initial land VTL arrangement, travellers must be citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders of the country that they are entering.
Thus, entry into Singapore via land VTL is limited to Singapore citizens, Singapore permanent residents and Singapore long-term pass holders.
Entry into Malaysia via land VTL is for Malaysians, Malaysian permanent residents and Malaysian long-term pass holders.
The Malaysian trade ministry said in a separate statement on Tuesday that designated bus operators will offer tickets to meet increased demand, subject to the prevailing health situation.
Unvaccinated children below the age of 12 are also permitted to enter Malaysia via the land VTL, provided that they are accompanied by vaccinated parents or guardians, added the ministry.
NOT A "FREE-FOR-ALL"
Speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference on Tuesday, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong noted that the new move would allow individuals to visit family members across the border.
“Some of these measures were important as we in the beginning when there was a huge outbreak, and therefore we need to be more cautious but it's not sustainable in the long term. And the relationship cannot be severed for the long term and therefore it's important for us to find ways to get back to this connection,” Mr Gan said.
“But at the same time we are not opening up for a free-for-all … like what we have before. In fact, even today with the vaccinated travel lane, they are still subject to a very rigorous testing regime, both ART as well as supervised ART so that we make sure that there is a check and balance in place to allow us to open in a safe way.”
He added that the authorities will continue to review the land VTL to see if it can be expanded, for example, to include other modes of transport.
“One possibility I mentioned earlier was via train and it's something that we continue to discuss with Malaysia on how we can expand to additional modes of transport,” said Mr Gan, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force.
“And this will also have to take into account the infection situation in both countries ... and when we have additional information, we will give an update to the public as well as to the media.”
At the press conference, the task force was also asked about the criteria for border measures to be tightened against countries experiencing a rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Multi-ministry task force co-chair Lawrence Wong said that Singapore already has an established framework that is "quite well settled" when it comes to general border control measures.
“We look at risk, we look at a whole range of indicators in various countries, we place them in different risk categories and according to the risk as the country's situation evolves, we will either update the country or downgrade the country in terms of risk categories,” he said.
“For the VTLs … we have put in place additional testing protocols to keep travel through the VTL safe. And of course, in the worst-case situation if the country were to really evolve to such a point where the infection situation in the country becomes very difficult, then, of course, we will not rule out more further steps for example, including the possibility of having to suspend a VTL if that were to happen."