Coronavirus: Manufacturers concerned about possible shortage of raw materials as Malaysia tightens border controls

Vehicles form a long queue to enter Woodlands checkpoint from across the causeway of the southern Malaysian state of Johor in Singapore on March 17, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Local manufacturers are scrambling after Malaysia announced a lockdown of its borders to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The measures bar Malaysians from leaving the country from March 18 to March 31, affecting those who commute here for work or study. They also raise questions about the ability of goods to cross the border.

Mr David Yong, general manager of local manufacturer Allied MFG, says this is "a big problem".

His company, which makes products from metal fabrication such as electrical boxes, relies on deliveries of raw material from its factory in Johor Baru to its plant here three times a week.

His logistics providers told him that they would not be able to complete deliveries after Tuesday (March 17). Only one 40ft truck of materials was sent to the Singapore factory that day.

Mr Yong said: "One truck of deliveries will last me for only three to four days of manufacturing operations. With only one day (before the measures kick in), how can you ship two weeks' worth of manufacturing material in one day?"

Mr Yong has been forced to ask customers for extensions to promised delivery dates, and he has written to the Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) for assistance. He says his peers in the industry face a similar material shortages.

Allied MFG also must deal with manpower issues in light of Malaysia's restrictions, although Mr Yong says these are "not as serious".

Its Singapore factory employs about 45 workers, including 10 Malaysians who commute daily.

They have been offered accommodation in a dormitory that Allied MFG rents for its Bangladeshi workers at the Singapore factory.

Eight of the 10 employees returned to Johor Baru on Tuesday to pack their belongings before returning to stay in the Singapore dormitory for the next two weeks.

The other two workers have elected to stay in Malaysia as they have elderly family members to look after. They have been placed on unpaid leave and Mr Yong hopes they will be able to return to work when the measures are relaxed.

SMF president Douglas Foo told The Straits Times: "The SMF has been in contact with our members since the announcement to keep them updated on the latest happenings. In addition, the SMF is also actively contacting dormitories to help members find available accommodations from them.

He added that the federation and Malaysian counterparts "have reached out to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and will be providing them with a list of raw materials that our members require to keep their businesses running in this two-week period".

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