Coronavirus: Empty checkpoints at Woodlands, Tuas as Malaysia lockdown kicks in

A view of the Woodlands Causeway on March 17 (left) and March 18, 2020. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN, GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Silence descended on the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints.

Gone were the crowds, the bumper-to-bumper traffic and the frenetic activity, as Malaysia's lockdown kicked in on Wednesday morning (March 18), and the land checkpoints between Singapore and Malaysia emptied.

The Woodlands Causeway and Tuas Second Link, which usually see about 415,000 travellers daily, shut normal operations as Malaysia proceeded with its latest effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, announced by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday night.

From midnight, all Malaysians are barred from travelling abroad, while all foreign tourists and visitors to the country are banned.

Malaysians returning from overseas must also undergo a health inspection and self-quarantine for 14 days.

The impact of the closure, however, was felt only intermittently in food markets further inland.

Following Malaysia's assurance that the flow of goods and cargo between both countries would continue, stall owners said they generally had no problem with receiving fresh supplies on Wednesday.

Madam Teng Mui Hong, 45, who imports chickens from Malaysia and sells them at Empress Market on Farrer Road, told The Straits Times that she noticed an increase in footfall at the market.

She said: "There was double the number of people coming in the morning but we still had enough for them.

The stretch of road on the Bukit Timah Expressway leading to the Woodlands Checkpoint is almost devoid of vehicles at 10am on March 18, 2020. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

"Tell them (there is) no need to be scared, (there is) enough chicken," she said.

Fruit seller Teo Bee Ling, 50, said much the same.

He said: "People see the news and got scared. We still have enough tropical fruits from Malaysia like papayas and watermelons . We can also get fruits from other countries."

Fishmongers, however, said that supplies on Wednesday morning were erratic, unlike vegetables, eggs, pork and chicken imports which all proceeded as usual.

A 43-year-old fishmonger, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lee, at Ghim Moh Market said he received about 30 to 40 per cent fewer fish than usual.

He said: "Some of the suppliers and their staff were not able to unload the fish here. It's more difficult for fresh foods because we need the supply to come in on a daily basis."

Another fishmonger at the wet market at Bukit Batok East Avenue 3 also said her supplies fell by half.

Still, Mr Lee Boon Cheow, former president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association, said: "We are still getting fish from Malaysia at usual prices.

"Singapore also gets its seafood from various other countries such as China and Thailand, so I'm not too concerned about the lockdown."

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) affirms that the country's food supply is not affected by Malaysia's movement control order.

It also said that based on feedback from importers, there are currently no disruptions to the country's fish supply from Malaysia, adding that Malaysia accounts for 15 per cent of Singapore's fish supply.

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Its spokesman also said that Singapore imports food, including eggs, chicken and vegetables, from more than 170 countries and regions.

Should one source dry up, it will work with importers to tap on alternative sources and ensure food supply remains stable.

SFA has also been investing in local production to serve as a buffer when imports are disrupted.

The lockdown, imposed after Malaysia reported its first two deaths from the virus on Tuesday, is expected to last till the end of the month.

According to latest reports, there are now 673 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Malaysia.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected nearly 200,000 people globally and claimed about 8,000 lives as of Wednesday morning, has upended international norms, with countries across the world imposing strict border controls and limiting their citizens' movements.

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