SINGAPORE - Ms Piang Lee San last week queued online for about eight hours to get bus tickets to Johor for her family for Monday (Dec 20), the first day of an expanded land Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme between Singapore and Malaysia.
The family of five were among some Singaporeans who made the journey on Monday.
Ms Piang, 40, a housewife, and her husband, Mr Pang Yee Hau, 42, are making a surprise visit to Mr Pang's parents in Melaka, in what will be their first reunion since the Covid-19 pandemic started.
"My children were very excited, they kept asking me if I had managed to buy the tickets," said Ms Piang, who has two daughters and one son, aged between seven and 12.
She is a Singapore citizen, while her husband is a Malaysia citizen.
Under the expanded land VTL scheme, vaccinated Singapore citizens can now enter Malaysia via the Causeway without serving quarantine. The same arrangement goes for vaccinated Malaysians entering Singapore via the Causeway.
Previously, only citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering could travel via the land VTL.
According to the two bus operators under the VTL scheme, Transtar and Causeway Link, they are now allowed to sell 50 per cent more tickets in line with the expanded scheme. This means that up to 4,320 people can travel between Singapore and Johor daily without having to quarantine, should all tickets be sold.
When The Straits Times visited the Transtar bus station at Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange and the Causeway Link station in Queen Street on Monday morning, long but orderly queues for the VTL buses were observed at both places.
Most passengers were carrying folders with stacks of documentation as proof that they had met the various VTL requirements, such as a negative Covid-19 pre-departure test.
There were solo travellers, couples, as well as those travelling with young children.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said that 679 persons were cleared for the land VTL arrival and 961 for departure as at 3pm on Monday.
Transtar Travel managing director Elson Yap said that about 80 to 90 per cent of the passengers going into Johor are non-Singaporeans. Singaporeans who have bought tickets to enter are mostly those who have family members there.
Only a small number of people are going there for leisure, he added.
On the demand for the tickets, he said all additional tickets released on Dec 17 for travel into Johor have been sold out. But only 20 per cent of the additional return tickets for Monday have been sold, likely due to people not returning to Singapore yet.
Singaporean travellers who spoke to The Straits Times said they were entering Malaysia to visit their family members there.
Mr Awaluddin Masnor, 51, a papermaker, said he was happy to be able to visit his family in Johor for the first time since November last year. His wife and four children are Malaysians, and live there.
"This is the longest time that I have been separated from my family," he said.
"I had actually bought a VTL flight ticket to Kuala Lumpur today, but I realised that travelling by the land VTL will be cheaper than the costs of the Covid-19 swab tests required for air travel."
Ms Tan Hui Lin, 44, is excited as she will get to see her parents in Yong Peng, Johor, after being apart for over a year. The process engineer said during the two weeks home, she will also be helping to care for her father, who had just undergone an operation.
She said: "My father is being discharged today. I'm going to Johor to take care of him. He cannot walk right now, so we will probably just order food from Grab and have dinner at home."
Ms Tan believes that the expansion of the VTL will benefit many Singaporeans and Malaysians.
"I think expanding the VTL is good for everyone... One air VTL ticket is around $400 to $500. The land VTL is much cheaper than the air VTL so this means more people can afford to go back."
Another traveller, a teacher who only wanted to be named as Ms Sivaneswary, 40, said she is returning to Selangor to visit family. She was with her husband, also 40, and their daughter, nine.
She was initially concerned about the trip, given the severe flooding situation that is currently affecting parts of Malaysia.
"I was worried, but we've spoken to our family members living there and they said the area is safe and unaffected."
She added that she had been waiting for the VTL to be expanded to include Singaporeans going to Malaysia, but was uncertain if it would be implemented in time.
"I was just scared that it would reopen very near to the reopening of school. Since the expansion started today on Dec 20, it's still a good time for us to go visit."
Another Singaporean family travelling to Malaysia to visit relatives was that of Mr Kohr Boon Hong, 48, who was accompanied by his wife Lee Chooi Ting, 48, his son Jayden, 16, and daughter Gladys, 22.
"We're very excited to go back. We've waited a long time, so we took the very first chance to travel to Malaysia again," said the auditor, who last visited his family in December 2019.
"We're planning to go to a restaurant to have a reunion dinner with our family there."
Details of the expanded S'pore-Malaysia land VTL
Vaccinated Singaporeans are now able to enter Johor via the Causeway for all forms of travel, including leisure travel. This comes after an expanded land vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between the two countries kicked in on Monday. Here are some details:
Maximum number of land VTL travellers daily: 4,320
Designated bus operators:
• Transtar Travel operates 48 services between Woodlands and Larkin Sentral daily.
• Causeway Link operates 52 services between Queen Street and Larkin Sentral daily.
• To enter Singapore, travellers must show a negative pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or antigen rapid test (ART) taken within two days of departure. Travellers will also have to take an on-arrival ART, and test themselves daily from day two to seven after arrival. The tests on day three and day seven have to be supervised at a testing centre.
• To enter Malaysia, travellers must test negative in an ART or PCR test two days before departure. Travellers will also have to undergo an ART on arrival, and then test themselves on the second, fourth and sixth day after arrival. They will have to undergo a professionally administered ART on the third and fifth day after arriving.