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M’sians coming into S’pore caught off-guard, scrambling to find housing, alternative work arrangements

SINGAPORE — Early in the morning after the Malaysian government announced a nationwide lockdown that starts on Wednesday (March 18), Malaysians who work in Singapore streamed across the Causeway in a state of uncertainty and confusion.

M’sians coming into S’pore caught off-guard, scrambling to find housing, alternative work arrangements

People streaming across the Woodlands Checkpoint into Singapore on March 17, 2020, the morning after Malaysia announced a nationwide lockdown.

SINGAPORE — Early in the morning after the Malaysian government announced a nationwide lockdown that starts on Wednesday (March 18), Malaysians who work in Singapore streamed across the Causeway in a state of uncertainty and confusion.

Many are 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 fortnight, while others are hoping to sort out alternative work arrangements. 

Addressing the Covid-19 situation on Monday night, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced 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 tourists and visitors will not be allowed entry. Those returning from overseas must undergo a health inspection and self-quarantine for 14 days.

When TODAY visited the Woodlands Checkpoint on Tuesday morning, many Malaysians crossing the border for their 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. Some were optimistic that exemptions would be granted to workers like them who cross international borders daily. 

Based on figures from Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, about 415,000 travellers use the land checkpoints daily.

UNAWARE OF THE LOCKDOWN

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

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.

Mr Nisfulidzam Amin, 36, who works in a factory, was also flabbergasted after TODAY told him about the travel restrictions, adding 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 they were planning to stay with their family and friends here for the next two weeks, others were unsure about where they would live during the lockdown.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore’s economic agencies were working with dormitory operators and hotels to provide accommodation 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. 

“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. 

Mr Tan Chi Tat, 31, who works as a warehouse assistant here, was seen carrying a large black duffel bag when he arrived at the Woodlands Checkpoint on Tuesday 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 worker Deventiran Aldevass, 30, who works night shifts here, said his ability to remain in Singapore for work hinges 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 Johor Baru. In Singapore, I spend S$25 a day without accommodation. In Malaysia, I spend only RM20 (S$6.60) for all three meals a day,” he said.

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

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

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

SOME MALAYSIANS MORE PREPARED

A cook who gave his name only as Mr Hanafi, 32, 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. 

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

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

Mr Ho said he was not worried and was optimistic that the Malaysian government would give consideration to cross-border workers like him who enter Singapore for work.

“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 do not believe they are that blind to our problems."

Related topics

Malaysia lockdown work Covid-19 coronavirus

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