The Indonesian holiday island of Batam is gearing up to welcome travellers from Singapore again, after both countries formally agreed to resume cross-border travel for essential business and official purposes.
Preparations are being made to install equipment to run polymerase chain reaction tests at the Batam Centre ferry terminal, which has been designated as an entry and exit point for sea travel. Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport will cater to air travellers.
Singapore and Indonesia last Monday issued a joint statement announcing a reciprocal green lane for travel between the two countries. Applications will begin on Oct 26, and travel will commence soon after.
Acting Batam Mayor Syamsul Bahrum said: "We have made a simulation of the arrival procedures for travellers, from disembarking from the vessel, to taking the swab test, and being taken to their respective hotels."
He added that officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Jakarta are expected to go to the island before Oct 26 to run through the procedures.
Besides ordering public areas and facilities to be cleaned, and handrails at the port area to be repainted, he also asked for clear signs in English to be put up to help travellers.
Applicants for the green lane, referred to as a travel corridor arrangement, or TCA, in Indonesia, must be Indonesian citizens, or Singapore citizens or permanent residents.
Among other requirements, those from Singapore must have sponsorship from an Indonesian government or business entity, and should have applied for a visa online through Indonesia's directorate-general of immigration.
Those from Indonesia must be sponsored by a Singapore government agency or an enterprise in Singapore.
Pre-departure and post-arrival Covid-19 swab tests from mutually recognised health institutions will also be required.
The news of the cross-border relaxation brought much cheer to Batam, a popular weekend getaway for Singaporeans before the pandemic.
Only a 45-minute ferry ride away from Singapore, Batam and its surrounding islands in the Riau Islands province had been badly hit economically by border closures, which left malls deserted, and many shops and restaurants shuttered in the past seven months.
Batam Centre international ferry port operations manager Nika Astaga told The Straits Times that the port served around 5,000 travellers from Singapore and Malaysia daily before the pandemic, with the numbers hitting 15,000 during weekends and peak holiday seasons.
He had been told by the local authorities to be prepared to handle around 300 passengers from Singapore during the first month once the green lane comes into effect.
"The number is not significant, but for the initial stage, we are happy. This is a good sign, like an oasis in the desert for us who have suffered losses for seven months," he added.
Around 10 hotels on the island have so far been identified to receive travellers from Singapore.
One of the hotels, Asialink Hotel Batam by Prasanthi, said it has received bookings for two rooms for after Oct 26 from Singaporeans since the green lane was announced.
The hotel's general manager Arinis, who goes by only one name, told The Straits Times that guests will be served meals at promotional prices while waiting for results of the swab tests.
As a health precaution, keys with only one-time access will be given to guests. If they leave the room without permission while waiting for the results and are locked out, they will be reported to the authorities.
Rooms will also be simply furnished, with room decorations removed to minimise surfaces being touched and the spread of the coronavirus, he added.
Singapore has been Indonesia's top investor since 2014, with realised investment valued at US$6.5 billion (S$8.8 billion) last year. Singapore is also Indonesia's third-largest trading partner, while Indonesia is Singapore's sixth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade having increased by 9.4 per cent year on year to reach $65 billion in 2018.
Indonesia has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in South-east Asia, with a total of 361,867 cases as at yesterday, including 12,511 deaths.