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Malaysians brave long queues and traffic jams to beat the clock and avoid lockdown

SINGAPORE — At about 1.30am on Wednesday (March 18), Mr Wee Han Chng, 53, heaved a sigh of relief when he finally entered Singapore via the Woodlands Checkpoint.

Bus driver Wee Han Chng said he crossed the Johor Baru checkpoint just two minutes before Malaysia's nationwide lockdown kicked in at midnight.

Bus driver Wee Han Chng said he crossed the Johor Baru checkpoint just two minutes before Malaysia's nationwide lockdown kicked in at midnight.

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SINGAPORE — At about 1.30am on Wednesday (March 18), Mr Wee Han Chng, 53, heaved a sigh of relief when he finally entered Singapore via the Woodlands Checkpoint.  

The Malaysian managed to beat the clock and was among the last few to cross the Causeway before his country imposed a lockdown at midnight, which would last till the end of the month.   

“(The customs officers) told me to 'faster, please cross, it is going to close, you only have one minute',” said Mr Wee, who works as a bus driver in Singapore with Tower Transit. 

“I feel very lucky, all of my hard work (queuing and waiting) was not in vain,” added Mr Wee, whose company has provided him with temporary accommodation for the next two weeks.  

For the past four years, Mr Wee has been making the daily trip across the Causeway every morning to Singapore before returning to Johor Baru in the evening. 

But on Tuesday night, he was among the droves of Malaysians — many with luggage, and elders and children in tow — enduring long queues and traffic jams as they tried to make their way to Singapore before the lockdown took effect. 

Traffic gridlock outside the Woodlands Checkpoint as commuters entering Singapore call for taxis and private-hire cars to pick them up on March 17, 2020. Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

Mr Wee, whose shift starts at 5am, ended work at 3pm on Tuesday. He then made his way home to Malaysia to pack his bags for the next two weeks.  

He reached Johor Baru Customs at about 9.30pm on Tuesday and got his passport stamped by Malaysian immigration officers at 11.58pm, beating the clock by two minutes. He then took about half an hour to walk across the 1km Causeway, before waiting around an hour to clear the Singapore Customs. 

Chicken rice hawker Alex Lau, 55, was also among the last few to cross the Causeway.

He told TODAY he was on leave and had been spending time with his family in Pahang state, when it was cut short by the sudden announcement of the lockdown.

He packed his belongings and left his home at 4pm on Tuesday, embarking on a long bus ride to Johor Baru. He arrived at the customs at about 11pm, knowing that he would have to make the six-hour bus journey back to Pahang if he missed the cut-off at 11.59pm.

Thankfully, he made it. “If I don’t come back (to Singapore), I won’t have any money to send back to my wife,” said Mr Lau, who works at a coffee shop in Jurong West. 

On Monday evening, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. This would be invoked via a “restriction of movement order” under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 and the Police Act 1967.

The lockdown would see all business premises being shut down, except for outlets such as supermarkets and grocery stores selling daily essentials.

Malaysians would be banned from travelling abroad, and tourists or foreigners prohibited from entering the country. By Tuesday, Malaysia had reported 673 cases of Covid-19 infection and two deaths. 

Mr Alex Lau booking a Grab ride at the Woodlands Checkpoint on March 18, 2020. Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

When TODAY arrived at the Woodlands Checkpoint at about 8pm on Tuesday, there was already a large crowd at the pickup point, scrambling for taxis and private-hire cars. 

The crowd gradually swelled, and by 10pm, people were filling up the sidewalk and spilling onto the road. Officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and police were seen helping with crowd control. 

In response to TODAY’s queries, the ICA said that following Malaysia’s announcement on Monday, it has deployed more manpower at Singapore’s land checkpoints to facilitate the movement of travellers across the Causeway and the Second Link at Tuas. 

It added: “The traffic situation at the land checkpoints is dynamic. The ICA adopts a multi-pronged approach in traffic management, which includes the flexible use of lanes for clearance of different types of vehicles.” 

Throughout Tuesday, there was heavy traffic on the Causeway, especially in the direction towards Singapore. Many Malaysians were also rushing home from Singapore to pack their clothes and other belongings, before coming back to stay in the Republic for the next two weeks.     

As of Tuesday evening, about 10,000 Malaysian workers who have chosen to stay in Singapore had been matched to temporary accommodation here, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. 

It is estimated that more than 415,000 people enter and exit Singapore from Johor via the Causeway and Tuas Second Link daily. 

Traffic gridlock at the Woodlands Causeway on March 17, 2020, at 10pm. Photo: Yong Jun Yuan/TODAY

Mother-of-two Shannon Wong, 39, was also among the thousands of Malaysians who rushed to avoid the lockdown, so that she could continue working in Singapore for the next two weeks. 

She was in Cameron Highlands with her husband and two sons, who are in primary school and are having their school holidays, when she heard the news.

Ms Wong, who works in a shipping company in Singapore, and her family reached here at about 11pm on Tuesday. 

“If we didn’t cross (the Causeway) by midnight, we cannot come over (to Singapore)… I wouldn’t have work for 14 days, and my kids won’t be able to go to school,” added Ms Wong.

“I am very grateful that we made it.”

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Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown Malaysia Causeway

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