Monday, March 16, 2020

Will Singapore-Malaysia land and sea crossings face tighter border controls if COVID-19 cases in Malaysia shoot up?

The two crossings across the Strait of Johor that link Singapore and Malaysia are among the world's busiest border crossings.

The sheer volume of people, vehicles and commerce that use the Johor-Singapore Causeway (>250,000 people daily) and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link (>110,000 people daily) make closing these crossings a daunting prospect.

But don't be surprised if Singapore strengthens border controls at its land links in response to the sheer number of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia to align the Federation with the rest of ASEAN.

On Sunday, it was announced that Singaporeans and Malaysians using the land and (very limited) sea crossings between Singapore and Malaysia from 23:59H today (16 Mar 2020) would be exempted from the 14-day Stay-Home Notices (SHN) that are applicable to all visitor arrivals who have been to ASEAN countries in the last 14 days prior to coming to Singapore, as well as visitors with a travel history to Mainland China (excluding Hubei), France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland or the United Kingdom in the last 14 days.

"We do have to put in place some special considerations for Malaysia because of the close proximity and the high interdependency between our two countries. So for now, the arrangements which I've just described will not apply to our sea and land crossings with Malaysia," said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

"We do need precautions to be taken at these checkpoints but it is going to be more complex given the high volume of people moving in and out of these checkpoints. On our land crossing alone, 300,000 people move across the checkpoints every day. So it is more complex. We want precautions to be taken there, so separate arrangements are being worked out through the bilateral joint working group we have with Malaysia. They are already in discussion and will work through separate measures."

If COVID-19 cases in Peninsular Malaysia shoot up, it is possible that we could see more stringent entry requirements such as the SHN restrictions applied to all visitor arrivals coming via the Causeway and Second Link. The mechanics of any moves to curb travel across the land links, and the duration of such steps to tighten land border controls, will be interesting to watch as it had never been attempted in recent memory.

It might be prudent for Singaporean companies and multinationals that rely on Malaysians who come to Singapore via the land links to prepare for that eventuality if they want to continue using the services of their Johor-based staff. For instance, such companies may need to help staff living in Johor with temporary accommodation in Singapore to save them the daily commute.

Alternatively, these companies should be prepared to replace Malaysian staff from Johor with Singaporean workers in the interim to avoid labour disruptions that the SHN will inevitably bring on company operations.

In addition, it may also be necessary and sensible to stockpile supplies and components sent on a just-in-time basis from across the Causeway as we are clearly living under extraordinary circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prepare a Plan B. That day may come.

No comments: