Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border amid concerns over Omicron variant

SINGAPORE, Nov. 29 (Reuters) – Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travelers to cross after nearly two years of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although travelers appreciated the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, some feared the border would be closed again due to the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus.

At Queen Street Bus Station in Singapore, a few dozen people waiting to board the first buses to Malaysia expressed caution.

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“The borders may close soon because of the new variant,” said Eugene Ho, a 31-year-old banker leaving Singapore for the first time in nearly two years. “I’m actually very worried about getting stuck.”

Travelers must test negative for COVID-19 before departure, and Malaysia also requires travelers to be tested upon arrival, a decision Singapore followed on Sunday amid concerns over the Omicron variant.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was greeted Monday by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at one of the land border crossings, his first official visit as Prime Minister to Singapore.

Siva Kumar, a 41-year-old engineer in the semiconductor industry, had been inundated with calls from his two teenage sons who were anxiously awaiting his return.

“All morning long they keep yelling, ‘Where are you now? Have you ever taken the bus?'” Kumar said. “(I want to) hug them, kiss them. I really missed them.”

Up to 300,000 Malaysians traveled to Singapore daily before the pandemic.

The sudden border closure in March 2020 left tens of thousands stranded on both sides, separated from their families and fearing for their jobs.

Under the new agreement, up to 1,440 travelers on each side can cross the land border each day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residence or long-term visas in the destination country, according to guidelines. published by the Government of Singapore.

A vaccinated airlift route between the two countries also began on Monday.

Singapore has vaccinated 85% of its entire population, while around 80% of the Malaysian population has been vaccinated.

Singapore, with an aging population of 5.5 million, relies heavily on Malaysians living in the southern state of Johor to staff businesses ranging from restaurants to semiconductor manufacturing.

Singapore reported 747 locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday, the lowest tally since mid-September. Malaysia reported 4,239 cases on Sunday, the lowest number since early November.

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Reporting by Joe Brock and Chen Lin; Editing by John Geddie, Ed Davies, Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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