PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia could temporarily lift its travel ban for citizens who commute to Singapore for work, if they can be housed there, Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Thursday (March 19).
Speaking to reporters at a press conference at the Prime Minister's office, Mr Ismail noted the "worrying" predicament of these workers whose livelihoods were affected when Malaysia closed its border for a fortnight as part of its Restricted Movement Order (RMO).
Some 300,000 Malaysians work in Singapore. About a half of them are believed to be daily commuters.
"We are negotiating and we have suggested that the 300,000 are allowed to continue working in Singapore on condition Singapore prepares lodgings for them," said Datuk Seri Ismail, who is also the defence minister. "This matter is under discussion. God willing, we will make an announcement soon."
He said the matter has been discussed by Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as well as between himself and his Singapore counterpart Teo Chee Hean. Malaysia's Senior Minister for Economy Azmin Ali and his Singapore counterpart Chan Chun Sing have also been in talks.
A day earlier, the Johor state government similarly said it hopes to reopen the border with Singapore. Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad was reported as saying this would be done with more stringent health checks at the border.
Mr Ismail, who is also the Umno vice-president, also warned on Wednesday that the military may have to be activated if Malaysians fail to adhere to instructions to stay home.
On Wednesday, many across the country still gathered in public places such as food courts and public parks.
"It was suggested and discussed, the likely outcome if the situation cannot be fully controlled, is that the military will be utilised.
"I believe it may not be necessary but if there is no other option, if compliance remains at 60 to 70 per cent, then there is a high chance that the armed forces will be activated," he told a press conference.
Currently, police roadblocks are merely advising the public to head home. But Mr Ismail said that "police will change their methods to tougher action if the public still does not comply".