GROWING up in Johor Baru, I always thought the Causeway was nothing more than a road linking Malaysia to Singapore, where thousands of people spend hours stuck in massive traffic congestion every day.
As the son of a retired Customs officer, I spent many hours at the old Johor Customs headquarters in Tanjung Puteri, which is now a high-rise residential area, following my mother to send my father to work or waiting for him to finish work.
In the morning, I would see lorries ferrying goods into Singapore while in the evening, the complex would be busy with lorries and cars honking loudly while going through Customs checks.
But years later, my thoughts on the Causeway, which is 96 years old now, have drastically changed from that of a congested bridge to a vital economic link for both Malaysia and Singapore, in particular for Johor.
After all, the Causeway is known as one of the busiest border crossings in the world, with close to 350,000 people using the one kilometre stretch to travel between Malaysia and Singapore on a daily basis.
Thousands of Malaysians go across the Straits of Johor to work while Singaporeans come here to shop or invest.
But when Malaysia closed its borders, including the Causeway on March 18, due to the movement control order (MCO) and Singapore imposed its circuit breaker days later, in an effort to control the spread of Covid-19, everything just stopped.
Many Malaysians working in Singapore decided to leave their families before the border was closed while some who could not make it found themselves unemployed soon after.
Trailers and lorries ferrying essential items were allowed to cross the Causeway and Second Link.
There are no buses ferrying Malaysian workers and foreign tourists into Malaysia.
I do miss seeing Singapore registered cars and motorcycles on Johor roads or filling up their fuel tanks at petrol stations around here.
Local businesses, especially those in the city centre, have seen a massive drop in customers, in particular Singaporeans.
This has forced many to close shop for good.
Shopping centres and popular places such as JB Sentral have either become empty or deserted, which is an unusual sight.
Driving around the city centre nowadays seems easier, with no traffic jams during peak hours, especially on Sundays, as there are no Singaporeans rushing back to their country late in the evening.
Never has the Causeway or Johor Baru seen such an impact as this one caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even when the British bombed part of the Causeway during World War II, it never stopped the Japanese army from invading Singapore but the virus has stopped people from travelling between the two countries.
On July 26, both Malaysia and Singapore agreed to reopen the border on Aug 17 under the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA).
The RGL enables cross-border travel for essential business and official purposes between Malaysia and Singapore, for up to a maximum of 400 people a week, for stays up to two weeks.
PCA, on the other hand, allows residents of both countries who hold long-term immigration passes for business and work purposes in the other country, to enter that country for work, up to a maximum of 2,000 people a day.
However, the number of those using the RGL and PCA to cross the border is quite small compared to before the closure.
Until Aug 31, about 320 individuals have travelled to and from Singapore under the RGL while another 8,270 under the PCA.
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad has always touched on the importance of fully opening the Malaysian border with Singapore.
This is his administration’s main priority as the number of unemployed has increased since the border closure.
He is hopeful that Putrajaya would consider the state’s request to open up the borders for the thousands of daily commuters.
Just like Hasni, there are many Malaysians and Singaporeans who are hopeful of this happening soon.