Land VTL capacity to be halved to 48 bus trips daily from Jan 21: MTI

<p>ST20211129-202111872057-Lim Yaohui-aqvtl30/</p><p>VTL buses from Malaysia continuing their journey to Singapore after immigration clearance during first day of operations of the VTL (Land) at Woodlands Checkpoint on Nov 29, 2021.</p><p>Singapore-Mala
New land VTL bus ticket sales has also been suspended for 30 days from Dec 23, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The number of travellers allowed to cross the Causeway under the land Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme between Singapore and Malaysia will be halved from Jan 21 next year.

This temporary reduction in capacity will follow the suspension of new land VTL bus ticket sales for travel from 11.59pm on Dec 22 to 11.59pm on Jan 20 next year amid fears over the spread of the Omicron variant across many countries and regions.

In a statement on Wednesday (Dec 22), the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said the reduction in capacity and ticket sales from Jan 21 next year will be equivalent to 24 bus rides per day each way.

MTI said all travellers who already hold a ticket on a VTL bus can continue to travel under the land VTL scheme.

Those who are not Singapore Citizens or Singapore permanent residents can also continue to apply for their Vaccinated Travel Pass if they have not done so.

The announcement by the Singapore authorities comes just days after the land VTL scheme was expanded on Dec 20 to allow vaccinated Singapore citizens to enter Malaysia and vaccinated Malaysians to enter Singapore via the Causeway without quarantine.

When the scheme first launched on Nov 29, only citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering could travel via the land VTL.

The number of bus trips allowed under the scheme was also increased just days ago.

When the land VTL scheme first launched, up to 2,880 travellers were allowed to cross the land border each day on 64 daily land VTL bus trips - 32 in each direction.

This capacity was increased to 4,320 people.

Bus operator Transtar Travel currently runs 48 bus services between Woodlands and Larkin Sentral daily under the expanded scheme while Malaysia's Causeway Link operates 52 services between Queen Street and Larkin Sentral daily.

The Straits Times understands that the two bus operators can continue to sell land VTL bus tickets to those travelling from Jan 21 onwards.

Causeway Link has already sold land VTL bus tickets for travel from Jan 21 until Jan 31 based on the earlier expanded quota, and these tickets will be honoured even if they exceed the now reduced capacity of 48 daily bus trips.

ST has contacted the two bus operators for comment.

Said MTI on Wednesday: "We will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust the VTL (land) capacity, taking into account the public health situation in both countries and globally."

The ministry also reminded land VTL travellers to adhere to the enhanced testing protocol strictly.

This includes an on-arrival supervised antigen rapid test (ART), as well as the seven-day ART protocol.

Travellers should also exercise personal responsibility, minimise social interactions, refrain from high-risk mask-off activities and avoid large gatherings and crowded places for a week after their arrival, even if they have a negative daily ART result.

Travellers who are unwell, including those showing early or mild symptoms, should be socially responsible and seek medical attention immediately, said MTI.

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As at Dec 20, more than 24,540 travellers have left Singapore for Malaysia by bus since the land VTL was launched on Nov 29. Another 12,455 were cleared to enter Singapore for the land VTL within the same period.

About 415,000 people travelled across Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link daily before borders were shut in March last year, and more than 100,000 Malaysians continue to live and work in Singapore.

Many expressed disappointment at the tightening of border measures on Wednesday, especially with Chinese New Year around the corner.

But  some said they had anticipated it given the growing number of Omicron cases.
Mr Ong Ci Cong, an administrative worker, had plans to celebrate Chinese New Year, which next year falls on Feb 1, with his parents and elderly grandmother back home in Kuala Lumpur after almost two years of being apart.

But these plans are now in jeopardy.

Mr Ong, 30, had booked a land VTL bus ticket with Causeway Link to return to Malaysia on Jan 29 next year but because tickets for the month of February have not been released yet, he is worried he may not be able to return to Singapore if the number of tickets sold are halved.

“I will cancel my trip if I cannot get a ticket to come back. My job is more important,” he told ST in Mandarin. “I do miss my family. It is a shame that I cannot go back to see them.”

While he is disappointed, Mr Ong said he also understands the decision to tighten border controls here given the threat of Omicron.

However, he said he would be more convinced if there was evidence to show that the Omicron cases were coming into Singapore via the VTL schemes, especially those with Malaysia.

As at Monday, there were 71 confirmed Omicron cases detected in Singapore, with 65 imported cases and six local cases. The Health Ministry did not specify which countries the imported cases were from.

Meanwhile, Malaysia recorded a total of 13 Omicron infections as at Dec 18. All 13 were imported cases.

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