Returning home for festive break not an option for many Malaysians in Singapore

A nationwide state of emergency has been imposed in Malaysia until Aug 1 and several states and federal territories went into lockdown again on Jan 13. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Returning home for Chinese New Year is not on the cards for many Malaysians here this year, with some even opting to work during the festive break to earn some extra money.

Malaysian Ken Lim, 27, who works as a salesman at an electronics retail store, told The Straits Times that he will be taking on a second job as a restaurant waiter on the eve of Chinese New Year.

Manicurist Chow Pei Wen has decided to break with tradition for the first time in 12 years and will not return to her home town Johor to visit her family.

Ms Chow said her sister, who is employed in a factory in Singapore, will be working throughout the holiday.

"Since there isn't much for us to do here, my sister said she would just work because she could get double pay during Chinese New Year," said Ms Chow, 32.

Only around 35 Malaysian employees have applied for leave from American firm Illumina to return home for Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 12 and 13.

California-based Illumina, which develops DNA sequencing technologies, has several hundred Malaysian employees on its books at its Woodlands manufacturing facility.

Malaysian workers who spoke to ST said the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia and the high quarantine cost in Singapore were the two key reasons they have decided not to return home for family reunions next month.

Malaysia has been reporting a daily average of about 3,000 cases a day since the beginning of this year.

A nationwide state of emergency has been imposed until Aug 1 and several states and federal territories went into lockdown again on Jan 13.

The movement control order (MCO) that has since been imposed in Penang, Selangor, Johor, Sabah, Melaka and Kelantan, and the federal territories of Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, is expected to end on Feb 4.

Before the pandemic, around 300,000 people used the Causeway every day, including about 100,000 Malaysians who commuted daily to Singapore to work before returning home at night.

Since the border reopened last August, Malaysians are able to return here for work under the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) and Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) schemes.

The PCA scheme requires Malaysians to stay in Singapore for at least 90 days before they can return to Malaysia for home leave.

A Covid-19 test and 14 days in a dedicated stay-home notice (SHN) facility in Singapore costs $2,125 and is payable upon application.

Malaysian Jade Chua, 27, who works as a sales and marketing executive in Singapore, said: "My parents agreed that I should not return home for Chinese New Year. The risk is too high. With so many daily cases detected in Malaysia every day, there is a high chance I could contract the virus."

Malaysians who test positive for Covid-19 at their pre-departure check, performed within 72 hours before their departure for Singapore, will not be allowed to enter.

The cost for entering Singapore under the PCA scheme is also non-refundable and is payable upon application.

Ms Chua said: "The total cost to serve quarantine in Malaysia and Singapore is about two times my monthly salary. My parents also don't want me to spend so much money."

The only child last saw her parents before the MCO was introduced in Malaysia on March 18 last year.

"I miss my parents very much. We plan to eat our reunion dinner together on New Year's Eve via a video call," she said.

Ms Aarathi Arumugam, president of the Malaysian Association in Singapore, said it has come up with an initiative to host dinners for lonely Malaysian workers and students who cannot return home to spend the festive holiday with their families.

The association is also trying to raise funds to continue to provide meals for some 400 low-income Malaysians here who are still affected by the pandemic.

A Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesman said Singapore reviews and updates the border measures regularly as the situation in other countries evolve.

As of Sunday (Jan 24), both the PCA and RGL schemes remain in place to facilitate safe travelling between Singapore and Malaysia.

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