S'pore, Malaysia to allow cross-border travel on compassionate grounds

This will kick in from May 17, but plans such as travel bubble and meeting of PMs put on hold

Travel on compassionate grounds between Singapore and Malaysia will be allowed from May 17, amid Covid-19 restrictions that ban the bulk of cross-border movement, the two countries announced yesterday.

But given the escalating Covid-19 situation in both countries, other arrangements like an air travel bubble and short-term visits for business, as well as a planned in-person meeting in Singapore between top leaders, will be put on hold.

The details of the special travel arrangements on compassionate grounds will be released later, but these will include steps like testing visitors for the coronavirus as well as the need for quarantine, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

Dr Balakrishnan made the announcement together with his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who ended his two-day official visit to Singapore yesterday.

Mr Hishammuddin said people on either side may request to make trips across the border to be with those who are critically ill or to attend funerals.

Dr Balakrishnan said the move is necessary due to the "extensive ties" the two nations share.

"When a family crisis occurs, people want to get together. And therefore, bearing in mind this very special close relationship between the people of Singapore and the people of Malaysia, it is necessary to have schemes like this," he said.

Details of the procedures and entry requirements will be released later by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore and the Department of Immigration of Malaysia.

Plans for Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to visit Singapore and meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have been postponed.

Singapore has tightened measures due to a spike in cases in the community and the emergence of new clusters over the past week, while Malaysia is expected to impose new movement curbs following a jump in cases over the past two weeks.

Both foreign ministers yesterday also talked about mutually recognising vaccine certificates to facilitate cross-border travel in the future, which will be done digitally, noted Mr Hishammuddin.

A joint statement from the two ministers yesterday said that they welcomed an agreement reached by the Singapore Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation on the mutual technical verification of health certificates issued in Singapore and Malaysia.

The move to allow travel on compassionate grounds is the latest in a series of agreements that the two countries have made to cope with the effects of Covid-19.

Other such moves include the reciprocal green lane, which facilitates short-term essential business and official travel and has been suspended since February, as well as the periodic commuting arrangement. Mr Hishammuddin said that these were discussed as well.

In their joint statement, the ministers expressed their satisfaction that despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, bilateral relations and cooperation remained intact and strong, as demonstrated by the uninterrupted movement of goods between both countries.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that Singapore and Malaysia have never completely closed off their borders, and still allow essential supply chains carrying medication, food and other supplies to flow.

This is due to the very special relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, especially Johor, and why special arrangements such as allowing for visitors on compassionate grounds have been made.

"Even as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to challenge both our countries, rest assured we will work very closely together, we will support each other, and our people-to-people ties will be protected and will be nurtured," Dr Balakrishnan said.

SEE THE BIG STORY • Muhyiddin's visit to S'pore postponed due to rise in infections

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore, KL to allow cross-border travel on compassionate grounds'. Subscribe