S'pore-Malaysia VTL: First bus arrives in Queen St with 3 passengers after delay; 1 person got off at JB Customs

The first passenger to reach Singapore from Malaysia on the VTL bus at Queen Street Bus Terminal on Nov 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Four people boarded the first bus from Malaysia under the land vaccinated travel lane (VTL) on Monday morning (Nov 29), but only three managed to enter Singapore.

The first bus run by Malaysian bus company Handal Indah, also known as Causeway Link, arrived at Queen Street Bus Terminal at 9.48am after a delay.

Ms Renee Looi, who was on the first bus, told The Straits Times that one man was unable to complete the journey because he was held up at Johor Baru Customs.

She said: "He boarded the bus at Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal but when we arrived at the checkpoint, he was brought to another place by an officer.

"We waited for him but in the end, we left without him."

Ms Looi, 29, made a trip to Johor Baru three weeks ago to visit her father before the new VTL arrangement kicked in. However, she had to first serve a week-long quarantine at a hotel there.

"I was actually planning to come back yesterday, but decided to delay it by a day since they announced the VTL and I wouldn't have to be quarantined," she said.

SPH Brightcove Video
As the first passengers leave Singapore for Johor Baru via the land vaccinated travel lane, they look ahead to their long-awaited family reunions. Multimedia journalist Cheow Sue-Ann reports from Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange.

Meanwhile, Mr Alex Lee, 40, was the sole passenger on the second bus that arrived at 9.51am.

Mr Lee, who works in sales, said his bus departed from Larkin terminal in Johor Baru at 7.30am.

"There were delays at the JB Customs but I'm not too sure what's the issue. I waited inside the bus for about 45 minutes, but otherwise, it's quite smooth," he added.

Mr Lee, who had not seen his wife and two children since March last year, went to Malaysia about two weeks ago to visit them.

He said: "My wife has to take care of our kids and there is no one to help her, so I hope to bring them over to Singapore soon. Although I can video-call them, there's no human touch."

Mr Alex Lee, who works in sales, was the sole passenger on the second bus that arrived in Singapore at 9.51am. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

There was little fanfare at the terminal, as passengers arrived without family or friends receiving them.

Speaking to reporters at Woodlands Checkpoint, Superintendent Tong Weijie, deputy commander (ground operations) at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), said most of the travellers who arrived were able to clear the automated lanes as they had brought along the necessary documents and submitted the SG Arrival Card in advance.

Travellers to Singapore are required to submit the SG Arrival Card, which contains health declaration information, within three days before arrival.

"ICA will continue to monitor the ground situation, fine-tune our processes and improve the traveller's experience," he said.

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Up to 1,440 Singapore citizens, permanent residents and Singapore long-term pass holders can cross the Causeway into the Republic each day on designated bus services.

The land VTL currently prioritises workers in Singapore or Malaysia who have not been able to return home since the land border was shut in March last year.

They will no longer have to serve quarantine upon arrival, unlike those returning home via the Periodic Commuting Arrangement, which requires a seven-day quarantine at designated facilities or hotels upon arrival in Malaysia or Singapore.

Instead, they must test negative in a pre-departure polymerase chain reaction test or professionally administered antigen rapid test (ART) - done within two days before departure. On arrival, they will also be required to take an ART test.

At about 1.35pm, the first bus run by the other bus operator, Transtar Travel, reached Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange, nearly three hours after it was scheduled to arrive at 10.30am.

Part of the interchange is cordoned off such that travellers from Malaysia can take their ART test in a separate area before being redirected towards Woodlands MRT station.

Travellers to Malaysia queueing to have their documents checked at Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange on Nov 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Technician Tan Kim Weng, a Singapore permanent resident, was waiting at the bus terminal to welcome his two sons, aged 14 and 17, whom he has not seen for about two years. His wife remained in Johor Baru because she was not able to secure a ticket.

The 50-year-old said: "Before Covid-19, I used to go back every week to meet them... I've been quite lonely in Singapore without my family. Tonight, we're going to have a good dinner together."

His older son, Wen Long, a Singaporean who was studying in Johor Baru, said he was elated to see his father. "I hope to go cycling around Singapore with my family while I am here," said the 17-year-old, who has returned to do his national service.

Singaporean Bruce Tum, 42, was one of the passengers arriving at Woodlands Checkpoint at about 1pm.

A highlight of his five-day trip home will be taking his two children to visit Universal Studios Singapore on Thursday using his SingapoRediscovers Vouchers.

His children, a seven-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, are excited as this is the first time they are visiting the theme park.

Mr Tum, a pastor at Central Christian Church, which has a presence in both Singapore and Malaysia, told ST: "I thought (the whole process) was really smooth. I'm surprised there was no crowd."

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