JOHOR BARU - Just over 6,000 people have travelled from Johor to Singapore since the land borders between the Republic and Malaysia reopened at midnight on Thursday (March 31), a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who used to make the daily trip before the Covid-19 pandemic shut borders two years ago.
The pre-pandemic crush of dawn traffic at Johor Baru was absent Friday morning, with motorbike lanes at the Malaysian side of the border staying largely empty from 5am to 7am. Thousands of workers used to queue up early in the morning to make the trip across the Causeway to work in Singapore.
Shuttle buses ferrying passengers between the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex in Johor and the Singapore checkpoint ran on Friday with a small number of passengers. The complex itself was fairly quiet, devoid of long queues or crowds.
Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said as at 5pm Friday, a total of 6,100 people had entered Singapore via the land crossings. Another 27,600 travelled in the opposite direction, from Singapore to Johor.
Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi said on Wednesday that the southern state anticipated around 42,000 travellers in both directions for Friday - about 10 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Traveller numbers are expected to pick up gradually, when more Johor residents working in Singapore resume their daily commute.
Mr Ramesh Arjunan, who was among the first to walk across the Causeway towards Johor in the early hours of Friday, said he did not plan to resume the daily commute until June, when the tenancy contract for his Singapore accommodation expires.
“I’m feeling very happy and relieved. I had one off day and decided to just travel to see my family,” the 40-year-old hotel employee said.
Meanwhile 35-year-old food delivery rider Ernee Farizan told The Straits Times he was delaying plans to return to work in Singapore until after Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that starts on Sunday, and the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations that follow.
Malaysia was under lockdown for the last two Hari Raya celebrations, and this year’s will mark the first one held with most Covid-19 restrictions lifted.
On Friday Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar lauded the border reopening with Singapore, saying it would stimulate Johor’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
“Our socio-economic well-being will also improve as families are reunited after so long and more businesses can slowly resume as people can get back to as normal a life as possible. I would like to thank both the Malaysian and Singapore governments for all their hard work and cooperation towards reopening the borders,” he said in his Facebook post.
Friday also marked the beginning of Malaysia’s transition towards treating Covid-19 as endemic, as it reopened all international borders, removed quarantine requirements for tourists, and allowed businesses to operate normally with few restrictions. Only mask wearing and contact tracing mandates remain.
“I must say that it is a good first day,” said Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who was at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Friday to oversee entry procedures.