Factory operator Nurul Hidayah Norezan was among hundreds of Malaysians who made their way across the Causeway to Singapore yesterday, as the two countries' cross-border travel arrangements kicked in.
As there is no public transport plying the 1km-long Causeway, Ms Nurul, 28, joined others in making their way on foot in the early hours of the morning. The journey took over an hour as they had luggage in tow.
She used to commute daily between Singapore and Johor for her job here, but had been away since March, when Kuala Lumpur closed Malaysia's borders amid the pandemic, catching many off guard.
She told The Straits Times: "I'm excited to be back to work again but at the same time I'm sad that I'll be separated from my one-year-old child."
Hundreds of Malaysians were also leaving Singapore yesterday to go back to their home towns.
Hotel worker Muhd Shafii Muhd, 40, was excited to see his family in Johor Baru after five months of separation. His employer has allowed him to take the rest of the year off under a no-pay leave scheme and he will return to his job here in January.
"The first thing I am going to do is spend time with my family, that's the most important thing... money can wait," he said.
The resumption of cross-border travel takes place under two schemes: the reciprocal green lane (RGL) for travellers on shorter visits, and the longer-term periodic commuting arrangement (PCA).
The RGL facilitates short-term travel for essential business or official purposes between both sides for up to 14 days, while the PCA allows Singapore and Malaysia residents who hold long-term immigration passes for business and work in the other country to enter it for work.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said the systems for receiving PCA and RGL applications are working well. "Government agencies will continue to ensure that the reopening of our borders is done in a careful and calibrated manner, while balancing economic interests and safeguarding public health."
In Malaysia, Johor Immigration director Baharuddin Tahir said yesterday that applications under RGL and PCA are fully booked until Friday.
Malaysia's Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said last month that 2,000 Malaysians and Singaporeans are allowed to cross daily under PCA, while under RGL, 400 a week can travel to and fro.
As at 10am yesterday, about 300 people had crossed the border in both directions, said Johor Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee chairman Mohd Solihan Badri.
He told The Straits Times that a free shuttle service has been provided for those with no transport to cross the Causeway. The service started at 5pm yesterday and will ferry passengers between the Johor immigration checkpoint and the Singapore border on the Causeway.
Before the pandemic, more than 300,000 travellers used the Causeway every day. Among these were about 100,000 Malaysians who commuted daily to Singapore.
Meanwhile, some Malaysians said they are staying put for now.
Ms Cindy Ong, 33, a nurse, returned to Johor Baru last December to give birth. Her husband, who works in customer service, went back three months later. "As of now, we get by with our savings. My husband is also helping out a friend's business. We are hoping borders will reopen completely to allow for daily travel so that we can resume our work in Singapore," she said.
Marketing manager Steven Tan, 39, who is in Singapore, felt it was a hassle to apply for the PCA scheme.
"The quarantine process both in Malaysia and Singapore is a deterrent for me. I can't take so many days off just to go back and not do anything," he said.
• Additional reporting by Toh Ting Wei