IT HAS has been almost 11 months since movement at the two land borders with Singapore came to a grinding halt because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The closure of the borders on March 18 last year due to the movement control order has caused a lot of hardship to people in Johor, especially workers and their families.
Many businesses, whether eateries, hotels or other trades, in downtown Johor Baru have either closed shop or relocated elsewhere.
Places that were once largely patronised by Singaporeans have scaled down and instead are offering attractive discounts hoping to lure locals.
While many major cities in Malaysia, including those in the Klang Valley, have kick-started their economic activities, the same cannot be said for this southern city.
To keep its economic wheels turning, Johor Baru relies heavily on those visiting and working from Singapore spending their money there.
Many locals living near the Johor Baru checkpoint are hoping and praying the borders would reopen soon so they can head back to work in Singapore.
They are now living off handouts from non-governmental organisations and Good Samaritans who provide food to the “homeless” in the city.
The situation is set to improve with the kick-starting of the national Covid-19 immunisation programme.
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad described the programme as a “ray of hope” to spur the state’s economy and reopen the borders with Singapore.
He knows that Johor’s economic and social problems can only be resolved once people start commuting via the Johor Causeway and Second Link.
The state government hopes the immunisation programme would help bring down Covid-19 cases, which hovered around three digits daily. Until Feb 23, Johor recorded 34,452 Covid-19 cases.
The state government knows that the only way to start talks with Singapore on reopening borders is by ensuring that the cases here drop drastically.
One way is to reopen the border to Malaysians and Singaporeans who have been vaccinated and carry a special vaccination passport or permit.
To date, Singapore has vaccinated more than 250,000 people.
However, carrying out a mass vaccination programme here is no easy feat as Johor is a huge state with many foreign workers, both legal and illegal.
Proper coordination among federal and state agencies is important to ensure the target groups get their Covid-19 vaccines.
Education is also important to assure the people because many misinformation were being spread via social media.
Johor MCA government affairs coordinating chairman Michael Tay said while it was good that Hasni and the state leadership would be among the first to take the vaccine to show that it was safe, more needed to be done.
“There are so many videos being shared of people collapsing or having severe allergic reactions after taking the vaccine,” he said.
This can easily cause panic and make people, especially the elderly fearful.
Another group comprises those who are only willing to take a vaccine from a particular country or company.
Tay added that one way to get the right message across was through local community leaders, village heads, political parties and even religious groups.
There should be a major blitz to counter any negative news or perceptions about the vaccine and the importance of inoculation to prevent diseases.
While the national Covid-19 immunisation programme will continue until next year, Johor needs to take measures to bring down its Covid-19 numbers in the coming weeks so prayers that the borders reopen will finally be answered.