Thousands reunite as Malaysia welcomes international travellers

by AZREEN HANI, NURUL SUHAIDI & AZALEA AZUAR / pic by BERNAMA

IT WAS a sight to behold — as the clock struck midnight on April 1, thousands of Malaysians, who had already queued up at the Causeway in Singapore, began their journey home.

By now various videos on social media have shown how dozens of people could be seen walking out of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (CIQ) at both the Sultan Abu Bakar Complex in Gelang Patah and Bangunan Sultan Iskandar in Johor Baru.

This marked the opening of Malaysian borders after 741 days of being shuttered due to Covid-19.

Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said in a statement that more than 11,000 travellers had passed through the checkpoints at Woodlands and Tuas as of 7am last Friday.

For Fatimah Amin, 44, being able to see her family in Gelang Patah was nothing short of a Ramadhan miracle, especially after two years of being apart from her husband and two children, due to her job as a hair stylist in the city-state.

“Only God knows how I feel. To finally be able to see my family after this long ordeal and to celebrate the first day of Ramadhan, it is God’s answer to my prayers,” she told The Malaysian Reserve.

“I hope I can commute daily from now on, but of course, to be able to come home at least for my off-days is already a blessing,” she added.

According to Bernama, Johor government plans to set up a special task force to discuss the standard operating procedures (SOPs) specifically for Malaysians who commute daily to work in Singapore following the reopening of the border between the countries last Friday.

State Youth, Sports, Entrepreneur Development, Cooperatives and Human Resource Committee chairman Mohd Hairi Mad Shah said the SOPs would be announced in the near future after discussions on the matter were held with relevant agencies, including the Health Ministry (MoH).

Per agreement, Malaysia-Singapore exempt quarantine and Covid tests for fully vaccinated individuals.

Travellers from other countries are to download the MySejahtera application, upload the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test results before departure and fill up a pre-release form.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, meanwhile, said the ministry targets two million visits for the remaining year but the target is still conservative as she is optimistic the number will surpass the target within just weeks or months.

“Based on the number of travellers today, we are observing the trend that was just a glimpse of the travellers. The number will increase and the travel activities will soon be pouring in,” she said.

“In Singapore alone, the number of tourists can easily reach two million within two weeks. When we combine the overall visitors who are in and out from Malaysia as well as other countries, the number is way more because we have many flights operating daily,” she said during the press conference at the welcome reception held at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) recently.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd MD Datuk Iskandar Mizal Mahmood said it has done the preparation since early days with the transport minister and MoH to come up with a strategy to reduce the line-up among the travellers

“We are happy that MoH also agrees to implement our suggestions to enable a more seamless process, instant and convenience for travellers,” he said.

“There will be glitches or hiccups since this is the first day but overall as we can see the process has been smooth and successful,” Iskandar added.

The Malaysian Immigration Department’s “autogate” system is now fully operational to accommodate Malaysians, but overseas visitors must still pass through a manual gate.

Senai Airport Services Sdn Bhd is also prepared for border reopening last Friday to provide safe and secure experience for travellers.

CEO Kennedy Ayu said the airport was constantly engaging with the local airlines and updating foreign carriers on the development of interstate travel and international border reopening health protocols and SOPs.

“To ensure its readiness to respond to any decisions made by the government, the airport has been regularly in touch with all the related government agencies and service providers, and will remain vigilant, disciplined and comply with all the SOPs and health protocols as advised by the authorities at all times,” he said in a statement last Friday.

Senai International Airport also recorded a growth in domestic travel when the Langkawi travel bubble commenced in September last year, followed by the resumption of interstate travel the following month.

It handles an average of 22 flights a day with only one flight a day to Subang during the Movement Control Order.

This is similar to 154 flights per week connecting to all the domestic airports, namely KLIA, klia2, Subang, Ipoh, Penang, Langkawi, Kota Baru, Alor Setar, Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri, Kota Kinabalu and Tawau as per pre-Covid routes.

Ayu expects frequent flights from neighbouring countries and vice versa, where the twice weekly flights to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, have resumed beginning last Friday.