JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Business owners in Johor said they were dismayed by the suspension of the sale of bus and air tickets to Singapore under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.
Malaysia's Health Ministry confirmed on Wednesday (Dec 22) that ticket sales for both land and air VTLs would be frozen until Jan 20 next year, although 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 emergence of the Omicron variant.
When contacted, Johor's state 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 admitted that the suspension will affect the 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 (JBCCI) president Low Kueck Shin said that businesses, especially in downtown Johor Baru, had been relieved by the initial implementation of the land VTL between Johor and Singapore on Nov 29.
He said while 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 (Perusim) secretary Hussein Ibrahim said the move was bad news for Johor, as the New Year is just around the corner.
He said most of the association's members were optimistic that the local economy would slowly recover following the start of the land VTL, but that optimism has been dashed.
"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, who is of the opinion that the land VTL should continue, as it is granted with strict restrictions while taking into account that 80.3 per cent of the population in Johor have been fully vaccinated. Around 87 per cent of Singapore's population is fully vaccinated.
"Those who are fully vaccinated from both countries are now getting their booster shots, which is able to contain the spread of the Omicron variant," said Mr Hussein.
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.
Dr Wee said his Singaporean counterpart S. Iswaran contacted him on Tuesday to formally inform him of the island republic's decision to impose limits on the number of VTL arrivals temporarily.
"Do note that all travellers who already hold a flight or bus ticket for VTL and have met the VTL requirements can continue to travel under the lane. We will continue to work closely with the Singapore Ministry of Transport as partners to look after the development and sustainability of transport links between Malaysia and Singapore," he said.