KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia and Singapore are discussing the possibility of reopening their borders soon, said Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
Datuk Saifuddin was assuring lawmakers in the Dewan Rakyat after several of them raised the plight of Malaysians who have not seen their families since borders closed due to the pandemic on March 18, 2020.
"I am aware that the issue is not just about Covid-19, but also about those who have been separated from loved ones even before the start of the pandemic," he said during his ministerial reply on the motion of thanks on the Royal Address on Thursday (Sept 23).
"I will try to see how we can overcome this together," he added.
Mr Saifuddin said the matter has been brought to the attention of Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who heads the committee to manage the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
"I was also informed that the Health Minister was in a telephone conversation with his Singaporean counterpart on how borders can be reopened between the two countries," Mr Saifuddin said.
"I pray and hope that the matter can be resolved as soon as possible," he added.
Mr Saifuddin said that the reopening of borders between Malaysia and Singapore would pave the way for the country to open up air routes with other countries like Thailand.
He was responding to the issue raised by Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who said he has received numerous pleas from Malaysians, who have not seen their loved ones for two years.
"This has led to mental problems for some, including divorces between married couples who have been separated," Mr Syed Saddiq said.
Tebrau MP Steven Choong suggested allowing Malaysians who are certified as fully vaccinated to return home once a month to see their families.
Mr Choong said the Reciprocal Green Lane arrangement between the two countries was for Singaporeans who had subsidiary companies in Malaysia and did not benefit the thousands of Malaysian blue-collar workers in Singapore.
Mr Saifuddin said that both countries had previously concluded a Periodic Commuting Arrangement scheme that allowed Malaysian workers or permanent residents to return to the country for brief visits.
He said the scheme has helped many Malaysians return to the country for a brief stay before returning to Singapore to resume work.
Separately, Johor's Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad said Johor will be submitting its proposal to Putrajaya to open up the border with Singapore through the Daily Commuting Arrangement (DCA).
Datuk Hasni added that the matter was agreed upon during the state security special committee meeting held virtually on Thursday.
"We will send the proposed standard operating procedures (SOP) for opening the border under DCA to the Special Committee on Pandemic Management," he said in a statement.
He added that the state government was also working to boost the percentage of Covid-19 vaccinations in Johor by obtaining data on Johor employees who received their vaccination in Singapore so that they can be immediately updated in the MySejahtera application.
He thanked Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for communicating with his Singapore counterpart Ong Ye Kung in getting the data on Malaysians who have received their vaccination in Singapore.
Mr Hasni also expressed his gratitude that Johor was entering phase two of the National Recovery Plan, but reminded everyone that the state must continue to increase vaccination rates to achieve its target of 90 per cent of adults being vaccinated.
"Until Wednesday, the vaccination rate in Johor is at 73.3 per cent, with a total of 1.98 million adults having completed both doses of vaccine," he said.
Mr Hasni said the vaccination programme for teenagers aged 12 to 18, which started on Monday, was running smoothly, but he hoped parents would take the matter seriously by giving their children permission to be vaccinated.
He also said that with the state moving into phase two, Johor would be able to enhance its economic recovery efforts, with more business premises able to reopen.
"In fact, when more tourist centres, theme parks and resorts reopen, economic activity will be more vibrant and have a positive impact on the income of the people, the state and the country," he noted.
"The state government also hopes that the federal government can implement the travel bubble to resorts in Desaru, Kota Tinggi and Mersing islands to further boost the tourism sector," he said.