Singapore's VTL freeze hits Johor business owners hard

JOHOR BARU • Business owners in Johor are dismayed by the suspension - from yesterday to Jan 20 - of the sale of bus and air tickets to Singapore under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

Malaysia's Health Ministry on Wednesday said that vaccinated travellers who have already purchased tickets can still proceed with their journey under the special travel lane initiative.

Singapore is tightening its borders as the number of imported Covid-19 cases hit a new high since the Omicron variant emerged.

When contacted, Johor's investment, cooperatives, entrepreneurship development and human resource committee chairman, Datuk Izhar Ahmad, expressed disappointment over the suspension, as the land VTL had been running smoothly between both sides.

He said the suspension will affect the southern Malaysian state's economic recovery, as many businesses dependent on Singapore will have to "reset" all over again.

Business organisations are also hoping Singapore will reconsider its decision to freeze the sale of all new VTL tickets.

Johor Baru Chinese Chamber of Commerce president Low Kueck Shin said that businesses, especially those in downtown Johor Baru, had been relieved by the initial implementation of the land VTL between Johor and Singapore on Nov 29.

He added that although the number of visitors allowed to travel by bus to Johor Baru from Singapore was considered small - between 1,400 and 1,500 people daily - compared with pre-Covid-19 days, their return had helped the local economy. "Hopefully, Singapore could look at freezing sales of bus tickets for two weeks instead of a month as announced," said Mr Low.

Johor Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Association secretary Hussein Ibrahim said the move was bad news for Johor, as the New Year is just around the corner.

"Some of our members have started borrowing money from banks as their businesses have improved slightly since VTL-Land started last month," said Mr Hussein. He is of the opinion that the land VTL should continue, as it came with strict restrictions while taking into account that 80.3 per cent of the population in Johor had been fully vaccinated. Around 87 per cent of Singapore's population is fully vaccinated.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said the ministry will instruct all air and land transport operators to adapt according to the latest announcement on the restrictions to the VTL between Malaysia and Singapore.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2021, with the headline Singapore's VTL freeze hits Johor business owners hard. Subscribe