Open the Border: Singapore and Malaysia

The very special relationship in between Malaysia and Singapore is making the opening possible based on compassionate grounds only

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Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (right) and Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein speaks to the media after their meeting in Singapore, on 2nd May 2021 (Image courtesy of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore)

Travel between Singapore and Malaysia on humanitarian grounds will be permitted beginning 17th May, despite COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting the majority of cross-border movement.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said on Sunday that the specifics of such travel plans will be released later, but that they will require precautions such as checking travellers for the coronavirus and the need for quarantine on 2nd May 2021.

Dr Balakrishnan made the announcement alongside his Malaysian counterpart, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who is in Singapore for a two-day official visit that ended on Sunday the 2nd.

Hishammuddin explained that the humanitarian reasons will apply to cases in which people from both sides request to cross the border to be with seriously ill people or to attend funerals.

The step, according to Dr Balakrishnan, is appropriate because the two countries have “extensive relations.”

The respective authorities of each jurisdiction, respectively the Department of Immigration in Malaysia and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) in Singapore, will release details of the procedures and entry requirements.

The two leaders also addressed the possibility of a possible air travel bubble between Singapore and Malaysia, with Hishammuddin stating that further talks with both countries’ transport ministries would be expected.

Ministers also talked about mutually recognising vaccine certificates to facilitate cross-border travel. “For such travel to happen, digital contact tracing tools of both countries would need to be compatible with each other,” said Hishammuddin.

The move to allow travel on compassionate grounds is the latest in a series of agreements that the two countries have made to cope with the effects of COVID-19.

In addition to the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL), which has been discontinued since February, and the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA), continuous attempts are being made to restore cross-border travel for other classes of travellers.

Under the PCA, approved travellers must remain in their country of employment for at least 90 days before returning to their home country for short-term home leave.

Such travellers can cross the border only at the Causeway and Second Link. Upon entering Singapore, they must serve a 14-day stay-home notice before being swabbed for the virus.

The RGL between Singapore and Malaysia is designed to make short-term travel more convenient. It provides for up to 14 days of travel and requires that those who travel under it adhere to a strict itinerary.

Despite the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral relations and cooperation remained intact and strong, the ministers said.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that Singapore and Malaysia have never completely closed off their borders, allowing essential supply chains to flow.

This is due to the very special relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, especially Johor, and why special arrangements such as allowing for visitors on compassionate grounds have been made.