Anger and shock: Malaysian workers scramble to enter Singapore hours before start of lockdown

SINGAPORE — Many Malaysians working in Singapore have been scrambling since Monday night (16 March) to pack their belongings in Johor Bahru and return to the Republic hours before the two-week lockdown across the Causeway takes effect on Wednesday.

The Malaysians that Yahoo News Singapore spoke to at Woodlands Checkpoint expressed shock at the measure imposed by their government and said they were worried about their uncertain period of stay in Singapore.

Traffic at the main checkpoint of Singapore was heavy on Tuesday evening with many Malaysians seen dragging their luggage and hailing taxis at the heavily congested roads in the area.

On Monday night, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a nationwide lockdown from 18 March to 31 March to curb movements in and out of the country in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

All Malaysians will be banned from travelling overseas, while foreign tourists and visitors will not be allowed to enter Malaysia. Those returning from overseas must undergo a health inspection and self-quarantine for 14 days.

Some of the Malaysians who were interviewed said that they only learned of the travel ban on Tuesday and had to hurry to their homes in Johor Bahru (JB) and prepare for their two-week stay in Singapore.

Suaini Dodot, a 34-year-old massage therapist, said that she heard the news on Monday night when a customer informed her. Expressing surprise, Suaini, who commutes to Singapore daily for her work, said, “It will affect everything because we have family in JB and we have to leave them (behind) for two weeks. I will miss them so much,” she said.

Her company had already arranged for a hostel where its workers could stay. Suaini went to JB in the wee hours of Tuesday, packed her belongings and returned to Singapore at 5pm on Tuesday.

Bala Chandran, a 25-year-old technician, said that he has no choice but to stay in Singapore as it was not possible for him to work from home. Of the 300 workers in his company, some 30 Malaysians would be affected by the travel ban, he added.

While his company had told him that it had prepared several hostels for the affected workers to stay in, Bala doesn’t know where he is going to spend the night.

Sau Kee Chun, also a technician, said he came to Singapore on Tuesday morning to work at his usual time before returning to JB to pack his belongings at midday. The 36-year-old Malaysian took almost three hours to reach Singapore due to the heavy traffic jam.

“We just don’t know how to react as we don’t have time to think about it or plan for it,” said Sau.

When asked if he was prepared to stay in Singapore longer should the lockdown be extended, Sau said that he has no choice but to use his salary to purchase necessities here instead of across the Causeway.

Sathyaseelan, a 24-year-old Certis Cisco officer, said that he was “very angry” when he heard about the lockdown, saying it will cause him and his colleagues great inconvenience. Nine out of his 15-person work team will be affected by the lockdown.

“We need to stay at a room every day but we don’t know what room or stay at where,” said Sathyaseelan, who has been commuting daily between JB and Singapore for two years.

Like many of her compatriots, Julie Sani, a 32-year-old production operator, said she did not expect Malaysia to be on lockdown. She found out about the announcement through her boss on Tuesday morning and quickly rushed home to pack her belongings before returning to Singapore after 8pm.

“I have cash but not that much other supplies because it was very sudden when we found out,” she added.

Thousands of cars and people heading towards Singapore along the Causeway on the night of 17 March 2020, ahead of the start of the lockdown in Malaysian on 18 March 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

As the hours ticked closer to the start of the lockdown, vehicles heading towards Singapore were jamming the Causeway. At the same time, thousands of people were walking along the Causeway to enter Singapore. 

In contrast, the vehicular traffic flow on the Causeway towards JB was much lighter. 

Malaysia has seen a surge in the number of COVID-19 infection cases recently, with more than 670 patients as of Tuesday. On the same day, it reported the first two deaths from the pandemic.

As part of the movement control order, non-essential business as well as schools and tertiary education institutions in Malaysia have been ordered to close, with only supermarkets, public markets, sundry shops, and department stores allowed to remain open.

Government premises will also close, with the exception of those overseeing essential services such as water, electricity, energy, communication, post, transport, oil and gas, finance, banking, health, pharmacies and fire departments. 

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that companies in Singapore hit by the lockdown in Malaysia will get $50 per night over two weeks to pay for each affected worker’s temporary lodging in the Republic.

The MOM released a list of 20 hotels and four dormitories that companies can consider to house their affected Malaysian workers and information on accommodation in HDB flats and private properties. It also said companies can encourage affected workers to stay with their relatives, friends or colleagues, who may be willing to accommodate them for a short period.

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