Malaysians coming into Singapore caught off-guard, scrambling to find housing, alternative work arrangements

People streaming across the Woodlands checkpoint into Singapore March 17, 2020. — TODAY pic
People streaming across the Woodlands checkpoint into Singapore March 17, 2020. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, March 17 — Early in the morning after the Malaysian Government announced a nationwide lockdown that starts tomorrow, Malaysians who work in Singapore streamed across the Causeway in a state of uncertainty and confusion, with many still trying to figure out how the move will affect their lives.

Some told TODAY they are scrambling to find accommodation in Singapore for the next two weeks while others are hoping to sort out alternative work arrangements.

Addressing the Covid-19 situation last night, Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced new measures to restrict movement within and into Malaysia from March 18 till the end of the month.

All Malaysians will be barred from travelling overseas, while foreign tourists and visitors will be banned from entering. Those returning from overseas must undergo a health inspection and self-quarantine for 14 days.

When TODAY visited the Woodlands Checkpoint this morning, many Malaysians crossing the border for the daily commute to work in Singapore were surprised to learn about the moves and said it would be a challenge for them to adapt so suddenly, while some were optimistic that exemptions would be granted to workers such as themselves, who cross international borders daily.

According to Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, about 415,000 travellers use the land checkpoints daily.

Unaware of the lockdown

Azlan Lazim, 42, who works as an IT technician here, learnt about the lockdown when TODAY approached him at the checkpoint on Tuesday morning, and said this would leave workers like himself in a fix.

He said he is worried that a sudden demand for housing in Singapore will cause a spike in rental prices, which he might not be able to afford and so he may return to Johor and take two weeks of unpaid leave.

Nisfulidzam Amin, 36, who works in a factory, was also flabbergasted after TODAY told him about the travel restrictions, adding that this would mean that he would likely have to go on unpaid leave for two weeks.

“I will have to go back tonight. I have nobody to stay with here (in Singapore) but I cannot stop working as I need to support my elderly parents, father-in-law and my three children. There are a lot of bills to pay at home, who will support me?”

Uncertain housing arrangements

While some of the Malaysians said that they were planning to stay with their family and friends here for the next two weeks, others were still unsure about where they would live during the lockdown.

Speaking to the media today, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore’s economic agencies are working with dormitory operators and hotels to provide accomodation options for companies that need temporary housing for their workers.

For Malaysia-born Eva Lim, 16, who is studying at Fu Chun Secondary School, news of the lockdown meant that she had to pack her bags quickly and ask to stay over at her friend’s house in Singapore for the next two weeks.

“I think this is very disruptive and I am quite worried because I will be sitting for my O levels at the end of the year,” she said.

Tan Chi Tat, 31, who is working as a warehouse assistant here, was seen carrying a large black duffel bag with him when he arrived at the Woodlands checkpoint this morning. He said he was prepared to stay in Singapore for the next two weeks.

“I have packed clothes from home and plan to ask my colleagues if I can stay with them,” he said.

Housekeeping staff Deventiran Aldevass, 30, who works night shifts here, said that whether he can remain in Singapore for work depends on whether his company can provide him with accommodation, as he would not be able to afford the high cost of living otherwise.

“I want to continue doing my job but if after my company’s meeting today they tell me to leave and return on March 31, I will stay in JB. In Singapore, I spend S$25 a day without accommodation. In Malaysia, I only spend RM20 for all three meals a day,” he said.

Winson Leong, 29, who works in retail here, said that as the lockdown would only last for two weeks, it should be easy for companies to make housing arrangements for their workers.

“If only the companies can give subsidised housing or give them two weeks of stipend,” he said. 

“Also, if the Singapore Government allows more tenants to stay together at a Housing Development Board flat, such as having more than six for each house, then it will be easier for people to deal with this.”

Some more prepared

Hanafi, 32, who works as a cook, said that he was aware of the news and was mentally prepared for the two-week travel ban.

“Everyone is worried but we need to follow the Government’s rule, the lockdown is good for all as we need to stop the spread of the virus,” he said.

Jerry Ho, 36, who works as a security system operator here, was similarly stoic, saying that he is prepared to live on his savings and take two weeks off from work if necessary.

“I've been working for 20 years so I have some savings and can take short-term no-pay leave,” Ho said. “Two weeks is not a big deal and not many Malaysians work in my company so the impact won't be that great.”

Ho said he is not worried but rather optimistic that the Malaysian government will give consideration to cross-border workers who enter Singapore to work, like himself.

“I think they will find a solution because this involves two countries,” Mr Ho said. “I trust that the new Malaysian Government will consider our situation and I don't believe they are that blind to our problems." — TODAY

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