Malaysia, Singapore agree on gradual re-opening of causeway

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Johor Bahru, July 26 (BNA): Malaysia and Singapore have finalised arrangements for long-term pass holders and travellers on essential or official business to cross the causeway border between the two countries.

The foreign ministers of the two countries fine-tuned the details as they met at the midway point of the Johor Causeway and agreed to resume in August cross-border travel that had been suspended since March 18 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 10-minute meeting between Malaysia's Hishammuddin Hussein and Singapore's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan is the first physical encounter after both countries closed their borders to contain the pandemic.

Describing the meeting as one for the history books, Hishammuddin said the successful discussion that will soon lead to the reopening of the borders can be used as a ‘template’ for talks with other nations as well on matters concerning international travel.

“This meeting was specifically aimed at discussing the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA)," he said, quoted by Malaysia's news agency Bernama.

“We have reached an agreement where standard operating procedures on both sides have been finalised as well."

With this new development, Malaysians eligible for both categories can submit their applications to the Immigration Department from August 10, Hishammuddin added.

“As for the third and fourth schemes, both governments need to fine-tune a number of things before they can be implemented. They are more towards security and health issues as COVID-19 is still a concern,” he said.

Standard operating procedure (SOP) compliance and good self-discipline during cross border travel under the RGL and PCA categories will determine whether the third and fourth categories will be agreed upon as well, Hishammuddin pointed out.

Movement under the third and fourth categories will also test the abilities of both countries in conducting COVID-19 screenings, he added.

According to Bernama, Malaysia is also in discussions with Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brunei and Japan on the implementation of the 'green bubble' travel concept.

More than 300,000 people, many of them Malaysians working in Singapore, crossed the land checkpoints between the two countries daily before the restrictions were imposed on March 18.

The suspension of travel resulted in some Malaysian workers remaining in Singapore, away from their families, and others stuck in Malaysia, which has affected Singapore businesses relying on Malaysian manpower.

In his Facebook account, Balakrishnan posted they met right at the boundary of the Singapore-Johor Causeway "so that we didn’t have to cross borders."

"We have settled arrangements for the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) ahead of implementation of the two schemes, with applications to start on 10 August 2020. These schemes will facilitate cross-border travel for official, business and work purposes, and help to progressively restore some of the extensive people-to-people interactions and economic exchanges between Singapore and Malaysia. It will be for a limited group of people for now, and done in a controlled manner," he wrote.

"I know that many Singaporeans are keen to start travelling again, especially to Malaysia, which used to be just a short drive or flight away. In these extraordinary times, we have to be cautious. So, while we are committed to addressing the needs of different groups of cross-border travellers, including those who wish to travel for compassionate reasons, the most vital question now is how to open up our borders in a safe and calibrated way.

"We will need to observe the necessary public health safeguards, so that both sides ensure a stable recovery from the COVID-19 situation. We have already seen second waves of infections appear in several cities around the world, just as they opened up. We want to avoid that. Our utmost priority is to protect the health and safety of Singaporeans.

"I seek the understanding and patience of Singaporeans that we are still some time away from full and open travel, even to Malaysia. Rest assured we are continuing to work hard on this with our friends across the causeway."