THE Johor Causeway and the Second Link with Singapore are set to reopen any time now, after being shut for over three months.
Leaders from both Malaysia and Singapore had agreed that it was time to reopen the borders in stages after the Covid-19 pandemic brought travel to and from the island republic to a standstill.
Malaysia imposed its movement control order (MCO) starting from March 18.
For the border to reopen, both countries have agreed to put in place new health standard operating procedures (SOP).
Presently only several hundred heavy vehicles ferrying goods to Singapore are allowed to enter and return daily.
The border closure has been hard on both sides, with Johor Baru experiencing huge business and economic losses without Singaporeans spending their money here.
Popular restaurants, retail outlets, hypermarkets, car washes, motorcycle shops and even money changers who previously relied on Singaporean customers, have experienced between 50% and 80% drop in business.
Many business outlets have even closed down and this is evident from the numerous banners on shoplots for sale or rent put up all over the city, mainly along Jalan Maju, Taman Pelangi, Taman Sentosa and Jalan Tebrau.
Singaporeans too are facing difficulties with many of their factories and industries running at half capacity or less, due to labour shortage as the country relies on some 200,000 to 250,000 Malaysian workers.Many Singaporean investors with businesses and factories in Johor have also not been able to visit their premises and rely only on updates via virtual meetings.
Many properties in Johor Baru owned by Singaporeans are lying empty since the MCO started.
Most used them as weekend getaways from their busy lives in the island republic and could not come during the MCO.
Malaysians and Singaporeans who have close family members in both countries are affected as they are unable to visit each other.
About 2,000 Malaysian students, who were previously studying in Singapore and commuting daily, are in the same boat and missing lessons as Singapore reopened their schools in stages after they relaxed their MCO, known as circuit breaker, beginning June 2.
In other words, both countries need each other and the border to remain open to continue to prosper.The question on everyone’s mind now is about the new SOP.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the reopening of the border would be done in stages and divided into four categories.
The first category is for professionals, including those in business, while the second category refers to Malaysians working and living in Singapore, estimated to be about 20,000 to 25,000 people.
The third category comprises Malaysians working in Singapore who commute from Johor to the island republic on a daily basis numbering some 250,000, while the fourth category refers to citizens of Malaysia and Singapore in general.
Talk is rife that Malaysians travelling to Singapore daily will be subjected to regular Covid-19 checks, with some saying this is weekly or every fortnight.
If each test costs about RM100 to RM150, this will result in the workers spending RM200 to RM600 a month on Covid-19 tests.
The other question on people’s mind is whether Malaysia and Singapore have the laboratories or medical capabilities to carry out such large-scale Covid-19 testing on 20,000 to 50,000 people daily.
Where do people get tested? At the border checkpoints, private clinics or laboratories?
While reopening the border is paramount and is expected to be by next month, equal attention should be given to coming up with a proper and practical SOP.
Reopening one of the world’s busiest land crossings is expected to be a Herculean task, especially with Covid-19 infections showing no signs of abating in some parts of the world.