Thousands of Malaysians rushed into Singapore last night to escape a lockdown that went into effect at midnight.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic near the border between the two countries was captured in photos just before Malaysia’s two-week lockdown barring citizens from leaving the country came into effect. Meant to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the nation now reporting the most cases in Southeast Asia, it affects the roughly 300,000 commuters who travel to Singapore daily for work.
Both the Tuas and Woodlands land checkpoints were clear by this morning.
Some Singapore employers, such as public transport operators SMRT and SBS Transit, said they secured temporary accommodation for their Malaysian employees at several local hotels. It was not clear where thousands of others would be staying.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo told reporters yesterday evening that only about 10,000 of the Malaysians working here have been matched with temporary accommodations since Malaysia announced its lockdown.
Singaporeans have taken to the internet to show support for those forced to choose between staying with their families and going to work now through March 31.
“With the full lockdown of Malaysia, thousands of Malaysians have chosen to head to Singapore and leave their families behind for the next 2 weeks just to make sure that their loved ones back home don’t go hungry. We really salute you for your sacrifice. While you take care of your family back home, let us do what we can to take care of you in Singapore too,” a viral post by social media site SGAG read.
“I’m a Singaporean. Today Malaysian taught me the meaning of sacrifice,” Facebook user Joseph Ong wrote in a public group monitoring Johor Bahru traffic.
“We are never different from each other just the borders separate us,” another group member said.
Hours before Malaysia went into lockdown, the country also reported two first deaths involving a 34-year-old man in Johor Bahru who had attended a mass mosque gathering in the capital and a 60-year-old pastor in Sarawak.
Coronavirus infections in Malaysia rose to 673 yesterday after 120 new cases were reported, 95 of which were linked to the mosque gathering in Kuala Lumpur.
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Cases rose to 266 in Singapore
Coronavirus cases in Singapore surged to 266 after another 23 were announced last night, mostly made up of people who likely contracted COVID-19 overseas.
They include more Singaporeans who had been to Europe and expats returning from abroad. Two of the Singaporeans, case Nos. 244 and 243 (announced Monday), work from the same home office on River Valley Road and were in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland together before testing positive in Singapore.
Others include a Canadian man who was in Japan recently, also known as case No. 246, and a Swedish man, also known as case No. 255, who was in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden before testing positive here.
“The majority of imported cases we are seeing in recent days are Singaporeans, Permanent Residents, Long-Term Pass holders, residents of Singapore who have been overseas. They have come back, and have been infected during their time overseas. Fortunately, we have been able to pick them up,” National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told a press conference yesterday evening.
“So we really want to limit the number of imported cases, and we have to do more … There is really no need to travel; please don’t travel if there is no need to during this period. It puts everyone at risk – you put yourself at risk, you put your family members and people around you at risk,” he added.
Those who continue to travel unnecessarily in spite of the government’s advisory may have to go on unpaid leave when being quarantined back in Singapore. This is because employers might not be able to claim S$100 allowances set aside by the government to help companies whose employees cannot come to work due to the Stay-Home Notice.
Singapore has also urged students abroad to return home.