KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The journey home to celebrate the Chinese New Year began slowly on Saturday (Jan 29) with reports of several points of congestion and kilometres-long jams as traffic increased on Malaysia's major highways.
More vehicles took to the roads on Sunday, with traffic crawling through most highways. Monday would be the last day to 'balik kampung' (return to hometowns) before the Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb 1 and 2) New Year celebrations.
After a year of absence, this year will be the first time many Malaysian Chinese are celebrating the New Year in their home towns.
Last year, when the new year was celebrated on Feb 12, interstate travel was banned for everyone unless they were in essential services.
The government only lifted interstate travel in October 2021, when Covid-19 daily caseloads fell.
Malaysians of other races were also heading to their home towns to take advantage of the long weekend.
An estimated 4.6 million vehicles travelled on the highways nationwide on Saturday, said principal assistant director superintendant Bakri Zainal Abidin at the Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department of Malaysian police headquarters.
Malaysians use the North South Expressway (Plus) to travel north to Perak, Penang and Perlis states, or drive south to Melaka and Johor.
Others took the Karak Highway to head towards the East Coast states of Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan.
Mr Bakri said traffic flow was very high on Saturday, with massive congestion reported from two toll plazas on the East Coast. He estimated 190,000 vehicles heading towards the East Coast on Saturday alone.
He estimated a traffic volume increase of 17.5 per cent for the Plus highway with 1.6 million vehicles on the road yesterday.
Plus Malaysia, operator of the North South Expressway, said traffic was slow-moving due to an incident on Saturday morning at the Tapah to Gopeng stretch in Perak involving a heavy vehicle.
"The Plus team was on site to manage congestion and clearance work, which was completed at 3.45pm and all lanes towards the north were reopened," said Plus' head of operations excellence Mohd Yusuf Abdul Aziz.
To smoothen traffic flow, Mohd Yusuf reminded motorists that heavy vehicles are banned from using the highways on Sunday and Monday, as well as from Feb 3 to Feb 5 when a massive reverse flow of traffic is expected.
Malaysia reported Covid-19 caseload of 5,139 on Saturday - the third day that the daily tally has stayed above 5,000, due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
A total of 78.7 per cent of Malaysia's total population is fully vaccinated, or 97.9 per cent of those above 18 years old.