Over 5,000 travelled via land VTL between Singapore and Malaysia in first 5 days

In the first five days, 5,033 people from both countries took designated bus services across the Causeway. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - More than 5,000 people travelled quarantine-free by land between Singapore and Malaysia via the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) in the first five days after border measures were eased.

Another 2,771 people entered Singapore from Malaysia through air VTL over the same period.

Last Monday (Nov 29), the rules were relaxed for those fully vaccinated - allowing many families to reunite for the first time since borders were shut in March last year.

In the first five days, 5,033 people from both countries took designated bus services across the Causeway, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) told The Straits Times.

For now, only citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering can take the land VTL.

The total number of people who have made the bus trips is lower than the maximum allowed. The quota is 2,880 people a day, with up to 1,440 vaccinated people in each direction.

As at 3pm last Friday, 4,343 people had left Singapore for Malaysia under the land VTL, said ICA - about 60 per cent of the total number allowed.

Entry into Singapore via the Causeway was far more muted, with only 690 making the trip as at 3pm on Friday. This is about 9.5 per cent of the quota over five days.

Meanwhile, most of the tickets for the ride from Singapore to Malaysia for the rest of this month have been snapped up.

Last Thursday, a week after tickets went on sale on Nov 25, Transtar Travel, which operates one of the two designated bus services, had sold all tickets to Johor Baru except for the last four days of this month.

On the same day, a spokesman for the other bus operator, Handal Indah, also known as Causeway Link, said about 24,000 tickets from Singapore to Johor Baru and around 14,500 tickets for the opposite direction had been sold.

About 90 per cent of Handal Indah tickets to Malaysia had been booked, she said.

The bus operators noted that a handful of travellers with tickets had been turned away before boarding because of documentation issues. The Handal Indah spokesman estimates that eight to 10 people are denied entry every day.

Passengers from Malaysia boarding their VTL bus to Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint on Nov 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Some passengers on Transtar Travel buses had bought tickets without first checking their VTL eligibility, said its spokesman.

Both operators do not allow passengers to amend the personal details on their tickets after purchase.

The Transtar Travel spokesman said the company is hoping to bring on board 10 more bus drivers to keep up with the brisk demand.

Of the 2,771 people who made the trip by air, 1,773 were travel pass holders who are short-term visitors and long-term pass holders. Another 871 were Singapore citizens or permanent residents, and the remaining 127 were children aged 12 and below, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore.

For many people, travel via the VTLs marks their first trip home to visit their loved ones after almost 20 months of border restrictions.

Travellers told ST that they hope the emergence of the Omicron variant will not derail quarantine-free travel.

Since the variant emerged, both countries have tightened their Covid-19 testing regimes for travellers.

From 11.59pm on Monday (Dec 6), travellers arriving in Singapore from Malaysia under both VTLs will be put on a daily testing regime over seven days using antigen rapid tests.

In Malaysia, the Health Ministry requires all travellers on the VTLs to carry out a Covid-19 test on the third and seventh day after their arrival.

Singapore permanent resident Tommy Yap, 47, who was on the first VTL flight from Malaysia to visit his family here, said: "I'm sure travel restrictions will come back because of fears of the new variant, but fingers crossed the VTL arrangement will stay."

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