SINGAPORE – On Monday, November 29, technician Tanapal Murugayah will finally be reunited with his wife and two sons – aged five and eight – in Johor Baru.

On Thursday, November 25, when bookings for bus tickets for the vaccinated land travel route (VTL) between Malaysia and Singapore began at 8 a.m., the Malaysian spent more than 15 hours trying to secure tickets for a four day trip home. He has not seen his family since March of last year.

Around midnight, Mr. Tanapal, 36, finally granted his reservation wish, and his family will be waiting at the Larkin Sentral bus station on Monday afternoon.

Like him, many Malaysians and Singaporeans have been eager to return home in nearly two years since Covid-19 border restrictions separated families.

The non-quarantine VTL across the carriageway begins Monday and travel must be made via designated bus services.

As cross-border travel resumed in August last year under strict conditions, Mr Tanapal, who earns less than $ 2,000, said the option was not viable for him due to Covid-19 testing expensive and of the long quarantine.

The land VTL, which was announced on November 24, allows up to 1,440 Singaporean citizens, permanent residents and long-term Malaysian pass holders to cross the causeway into Singapore each day.

Likewise, up to 1,440 Malaysian citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders in Singapore will be able to return home, as part of an initial phase of land VTL.

For starters, there will be 64 daily bus services between Malaysia and Singapore, 32 each way.

The urge to see loved ones saw the reservation systems of the two companies operating the services collapse on the first day of ticket sales.

By day two, a third of the tickets from Singapore to Johor Baru for the next 30 days had been sold on the Transtar Travel website. On the Causeway Link portal, all tickets for the same route in the first week have also been purchased.

A beautician who wanted to be known as Careyn said she rushed to buy the bus tickets, although she had already bought a VTL plane ticket earlier. The air VTL between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport also begins Monday.

“After the announcement of the aerial VTL, I immediately bought a plane ticket within an hour of it going on sale. But, as Batu Pahat’s person, Johor, it would definitely be more convenient to travel by land. “

Batu Pahat is much closer to Johor Baru than to Kuala Lumpur Airport.

The 22-year-old, who hasn’t returned home since August last year, will now find another date to use the plane ticket.

Deputy director of operations Chok Chen Kiong, who has not seen his wife and two children – who are studying at the university – for about two years, plans to travel in January after failing to enter the sites. reservation.

While the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) had been launched to facilitate travel in August last year, the busy nature of its work meant that it had not been practical to take long leaves to meet the needs of people. PCA requirements, which include a seven-day quarantine.

“I don’t think it’s worth it; with the quarantine at the hotel, it will actually cost around $ 3,000 per round trip,” Mr. Chok said.

Tickets from Singapore to Johor Bahru for the first 10 days of the VTL were sold on the Transtar Travel website on the second day of sale. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

While grateful for the easing of border restrictions, Malaysians and Singaporeans hope the requirements will be less onerous.

A 26-year-old law enforcement officer who wanted to be known as Stephanie said she booked tickets for herself and her one-month-old baby to visit family.

But the Malaysian found out on Friday that her Singaporean son cannot travel because he is not a permanent resident or long-term pass holder in Malaysia.

A spokesperson for the Department of Trade and Industry told the Straits Times that workers who have been affected by Covid-19 and separated from their families for many months are given priority during the initial phase.

“It also allows us to open up in a careful and calibrated manner, to test and adjust protocols and to prepare more travelers in the future,” she added, noting that the land VTL will include gradually other groups of travelers, taking into account the public health situation.

Meanwhile, companies welcome the arrangement, which will ease the mental strain Malaysian employees face and improve worker retention.

Yeo Group HR Director Willis Phua said he had been affected by border closures, with 21.7% of the food and beverage manufacturing company’s workforce here from Malaysia.

To help Malaysian employees who commute daily across the causeway, he introduced a housing allowance to support around 40 percent of those employees.

He added: “It has been mentally difficult for them not to see their family for so long. Most importantly, we are happy that our employees are finally meeting their loved ones.”

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