WHEN Malaysia and Singapore first announced that they were easing travel restrictions in August for workers and business people, there was a lot of excitement and hope that their border will reopen in stages.
Under the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL), 400 Malaysians and Singaporeans are allowed to travel to and from the two countries every week for official travel or business matters.
While for those under the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA), a total of 2,000 residents of both countries with long-term work permits are allowed to cross the Causeway and the Second Link daily.
Initially there were huge take ups for both initiatives, as people were stuck on either side since the border closed due to the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) on March 18.
Actually, the quotas for PCA for the first few days since Aug 17 were all snapped up.
However, the excitement and fanfare seems to have fizzled out now as based on statistics over a month of its implementation, between Aug 17 and Sept 23, only 4,756 people have travelled via PCA and 786 people via RGL.
That means only 5,542 Malaysians have travelled using these two initiatives during those 38 days.
This is a far cry from the 2,000 commuters touted daily under PCA and 400 weekly under RGL.
So what happened to these two initiatives, which should have been utilised by at least 76,000 people under PCA and 2,400 people under RGL?
Were they put off by the red tape involved in the application process or lack of information available about the initiatives, high quarantine costs or long quarantine periods, or simply did not qualify?
When the initiatives were introduced, the quarantine period was two weeks for both countries but since Sept 1, Singapore has revised the Stay-Home Notice (SHN) to seven days for people travelling from low-risk countries or regions.
Besides Malaysia, other low-risk places identified were Australia (excluding Victoria state), Macau, mainland China, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Those with their own homes are allowed to serve the seven-day SHN at home while others can do so at a hotel.
But they are required to undertake a Covid-19 test.
How much has Malaysia done to revise its own PCA and RGL procedures since Aug 17?
Some Malaysians who travelled from Johor using the RGL for a short business trip recently alleged they were forced to undergo compulsory quarantine in Johor for 14 days at a hotel upon their return.
They were also forced to fork out RM2,100 for their quarantine stay.
Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad during an interview with The Star said that border crossings with Singapore should be reopened as soon as possible as the state government was not capable of finding employment for 100,000 Malaysians who might lose their jobs due to the prolonged closure.
He said that the current unemployment rate in the state was already at a record high of 18% with 35,000 people jobless.
Hasni, who stressed that Johor was a green zone, said up to 10% of businesses in Johor Baru had closed due to cash flow problems.
So the time has come for the Federal Government to find a way to balance the people’s lives and their livelihoods.
More needs to be done to find ways to reopen the border, not just to aid the Johor economy, but also to allow people to earn a living to support their families.
The government should immediately fix or “reciprocate” with regards to the PCA and RGL and try to find ways to reopen the border.
Johor has already submitted its recommendations to the Federal Government on some of the standard operating procedures for some time.
Before the pandemic, the two land crossings between Malaysia and Singapore were among the busiest in the world with about 250,000 people commuting daily.
Malaysia and Singapore should sit down and work out a strategy to open up the borders to at least 5,000 to 20,000 workers daily with a controlled itinerary.
All workers should also undergo mandatory Covid-19 tests either weekly or fortnightly.
With proper and practical SOP in place, Malaysia should seriously consider the reopening of the two crossings.
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