Malaysia has assured Singapore that the flow of goods, food supplies and cargo into the Republic will continue uninterrupted despite a 14-day lockdown of its borders that begins today.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong received this reassurance from his Malaysian counterpart Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday, when they discussed the move that Malaysia announced on Monday to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The movement control order bars Malaysians from travelling abroad till March 31, including those who commute to Singapore daily. More than 300,000 people cross the land checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas each day.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said at a press conference that companies affected by the travel restrictions will get $50 per worker per night for 14 nights, to help them house their Malaysian workers in dormitories, hotels or rental units.
Employers have mostly managed to find accommodation for workers who have to stay in Singapore, even though several hundred companies have approached the Government for help, she said.
More than 10,000 workers had been matched to accommodation as of yesterday evening, she added.
"By and large, we do have enough capacity to help them. So I'm confident that all of their needs can be met," Mrs Teo said.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the Government is prepared to be flexible with the minimum six-month rental term for Housing Board flats, given the situation and short notice.
He also urged all Singapore residents to comply with the travel advisory issued on Sunday to defer all non-essential travel abroad for 30 days, and warned that those who still choose to travel have to take responsibility for their actions.
"If there's no need to travel, please don't travel during this period. It puts everyone at risk - you put yourself at risk, you put your family members and people around you at risk," stressed Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force handling Covid-19.
He noted that the majority of imported cases in recent days are Singaporeans and residents who were infected while overseas. It only takes one or two cases to "go out of the containment" for the coronavirus to spread widely, he said.
The Health Ministry yesterday announced 23 new Covid-19 cases, of which 17 were imported. That was the highest to date, and brought the total cases in Singapore to 266.
Mr Wong said people who really have to travel are not barred from doing so. But employers are entitled to make staff who opt to travel take their own leave when serving the 14-day stay-home notice or the leave of absence, he added.
On Malaysia's measures, he said that while the lockdown will cause inconvenience and disruption, it will help both countries control the spread of the coronavirus.
Malaysia reported its first two Covid-19 deaths and 120 new cases yesterday, taking its total to 673.
The impending lockdown saw long lines of traffic form at the land checkpoints. Mr Wong said Singapore is in talks with the Malaysian authorities to see if there can be some flexibility over the deadline, to allow Malaysians who want to enter the Republic to do so.
Businesses will be hit by the restrictions. The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore yesterday said its member companies "urgently depend on the continued flow of people and goods across the border as both countries and economies are interdependent".
In his Facebook post, PM Lee said he and Mr Muhyiddin also agreed to appoint senior ministers on both sides - Mr Teo Chee Hean and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob - to coordinate their responses to the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly on measures where both countries can work together, or where the actions of one country will affect the other.
In a statement last night, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the two senior ministers and Johor Menteri Besar Hasni Mohammad will co-chair a Singapore-Malaysia special working committee on Covid-19.
"The special working committee will propose and coordinate a joint mitigation plan to ensure the safe and sustainable movement of people, goods, and services between Malaysia and Singapore," it said.