Dealing with separation: Family

Coronavirus: Malaysian worker in S'pore can't get home for his mother's funeral

Mr Terry Mariyadas, who works in Singapore, was unable to make it home for his mother's funeral on Friday as he could not get official approval to return to Johor Baru. His mother, Madam Santhanamary Sarkunam, is pictured here with his father, Mr Mar
Mr Terry Mariyadas, who works in Singapore, was unable to make it home for his mother's funeral on Friday as he could not get official approval to return to Johor Baru. His mother, Madam Santhanamary Sarkunam, is pictured here with his father, Mr Mariyadas Anthony, and their grandson Danushan. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TERRY MARIYADAS

As his siblings gathered around his mother's coffin for their last prayers, Mr Terry Mariyadas, 35, could only watch helplessly from the other end of a WhatsApp video call.

The senior technician at the Four Seasons Hotel in Singapore could not make the trip home to Johor Baru (JB) for his elderly mother's funeral on Friday morning as he was unable to get official approval to return to Malaysia.

"I couldn't see my mum for the last time. It's very painful for me," said the Malaysian who has worked in Singapore for close to a decade.

When his mother, 70, died in the wee hours of Thursday morning, Mr Mariyadas' first instinct was to get on his motorbike and head home to be with his family.

But he knew that Singapore's circuit breaker measures and Malaysia's movement control order (MCO) mean that he has to go through the proper channels to return home smoothly, including possibly serving quarantine orders.

Before Malaysia's MCO started on March 18, he used to commute daily from JB to Singapore for work. The sole breadwinner, who lives with his father, wife and sons - a two-year-old and an eight-month-old - decided to remain in Singapore for work. He has not been home for more than two months and has been staying at his company's hotel.

His mum, who had diabetes, was hospitalised for an infection in her leg earlier and died from heart failure related to the infection.

Travel restrictions between Singapore and Malaysia have made the distance for those who have loved ones across the Causeway much harder to bear.

Under the MCO, Malaysians returning from Singapore require an entry permit from the Malaysian High Commission here, which has to be applied for at least two days before the departure date. When back home, they have to be quarantined for 14 days at a government facility.

In a video that was widely shared last week, a grief-stricken Tower Transit bus driver is seen breaking down at the wheel after learning that her husband in Malaysia had died.

In a statement, Tower Transit said it was giving the woman its full support and also space to grieve privately. It is not known if the woman was able to return to Malaysia for the funeral.

 
 

On Tuesday, Malaysian media The Star reported that Malaysians in Singapore can return home to attend funerals of immediate family members without serving the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

However, they are allowed to be at the funeral for only up to three hours and have to be escorted and clad in personal protective gear.

Mr Mariyadas approached the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore for help. His colleagues and bosses also wrote e-mails and called various authorities in a bid to expedite the process.

The prospect of possibly serving a 14-day quarantine in Singapore upon returning from the funeral did not faze Mr Mariyadas. "My bosses and my company were supportive," he said.

But when their calls and e-mails went unanswered, Mr Mariyadas decided to head down to the high commission in Jervois Road at 8am on Friday with all his paperwork, just hours before the funeral at 10.30am.

After waiting for nearly two hours, he was told that he was unable to get immediate approval to return home. The Sunday Times contacted the Malaysian High Commission regarding the case, but did not get a response by press time.

"It was an emergency. I was trying to be understanding because we are in (the middle of) a pandemic, but I wanted to cry and swear," said Mr Mariyadas, adding that he called his family who were waiting for him and told them to go ahead with the Catholic rites.

"I told them I'm sorry, I was not successful (in getting the approval)."

The last time Mr Mariyadas saw his mother was when he left for work on March 17. He thought they would be apart for just two weeks until March 31. "She held my hand and told me to ride safe," he said.

The MCO was later extended and is expected to end on June 9.

"If I had been able to go back, at least my heart would be at peace," said Mr Mariyadas.

Tan Tam Mei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 31, 2020, with the headline 'Family: Can't get home for his mother's funeral'. Print Edition | Subscribe