Singapore and Malaysia Initiate a Joint Working Group to Reinforce Cooperation in Attacking the Spread of the Covid-19 Outbreak
Malaysia is one of the many countries, which has also introduced the lockdown measure to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The measure has caught many people by surprise and especially those who wanted to return home from Singapore. According to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, about 45,000 Malaysians are working in Singapore. On the other hand, Singapore imports a significant amount of fresh produce from Malaysia.
All these Singapore and Malaysia COVID-19 situation has brought in renewed panic in the two countries despite the Malaysian Prime Minister explaining the government’s priority of avoiding the spread of new infections. The lockdown measure would mean the closure of business and premises offering non – essential services. The most worrying part of the measure is that it would stay for two weeks.
Assurance from Prime Minister Loong that food supplies from Malaysia would continue
Singapore receives huge amounts of fruits, eggs, and vegetables from Malaysia as well as fish and chicken. This is according to Singapore’s ex-food authority the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA). Interestingly, there are hundreds of Singaporeans crossing the border every day to buy goods directly from the Malaysian supermarkets.
With the news of a possible lockdown, Loong was quick to reassure the citizens that the closing of borders would not affect food supplies. He did emphasize that the two weeks lockdown would majorly affect the travelers and not the cargo.
The same was echoed by Chan Chun Sing, Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry who assured the Singaporeans that the country was on standby to counter any challenges related to shortages. He emphasized that the government was working with firms providing essential services such as NTUC Fairprice and Dairy farm international to restock food supplies, which would last for at least two months from now.
Sing further explained that the government has put in place measures to ensure continued local production of things such as canned goods, noddles, and other foods. Nonetheless, despite all these assurances, there was still a panic- buying mood where people began shopping in large amounts.
Singapore and Malaysia set up a joint working group on COVID-19
Through a telephone conversation, the Malaysian Prime Minister Yassin and his Singaporean counterpart Loong agreed to work together to restrain the further spread of the COVID-19. The agreement resulted in the establishment of a Malaysia-Singapore Joint Working Group (JWG).
Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Malaysian Minister of Defence Dato’ and Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Hasni would co-chair the group.
The meeting was done through a video conference and in each of their updates, the two countries agreed to work together to contain the virus. One of the measures they collectively agreed upon was to have screening procedures intensified at land and sea checkpoints. Symptomatic travelers would have to follow a certain set of protocols at the checkpoints.
Members of the group agreed ‘’… to continue entry screenings by both countries, align temperature screening protocols by applying the same temperature cut-off (>37.5°C) for febrile travelers, and implement reciprocal arrangements for the transfer of symptomatic travelers detected at entry screening back across the land and sea checkpoints’’.
The two countries have been in close touch since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. They acknowledged the fact that working together was for the good of everyone in their respective countries. And according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health, the collaboration was made possible by the many years of the strong network between the two entities.
Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad, the Malaysian Health Minister added that hundreds of people had been traveling across the two countries for leisure, family, and business among other reasons. Hence, there the need to continue enhancing, encouraging and strengthening the cooperation.
Epidemiological outcomes and clinical control of the disease
This too was discussed alongside other possible public health measures. So far Singapore and Malaysia have reported 47 and 18 cases respectively. Malaysian first case of the coronavirus was from Chinese tourists and the next was from a local who had attended a conference in Singapore. Of the 47 cases in Malaysia, 12 are from Chinese nationals. Nonetheless, anyone entering Singapore now has to undergo a 14 – day self-imposed home quarantine.
But what are the drawbacks of the new measures – the working together of Malaysia and Singapore?
While the stricter measures are for the good of everyone, there would still be suffering for some. Workplaces have closed and there is the fear of the loss of jobs and retrenchment especially those who worked in factories. Those who had traveled before the movement control order (MCO) will not be able to return to their jobs, which means they will not have any income. It would even be worse if any of the two countries decided to tighten their measures.
There would be loss of avenue especially for those working in food outlets given the new measure by Singapore’s government to have customers order takeaways. Not to mention that life in Singapore can be very expensive without a regular income. Besides, many Malaysians have high financial obligations including bank loans and that is what pushed them to look for jobs in Singapore.
Nonetheless, Johor Baru MP Akmal Nasir is for the idea that Malaysians working in Singapore should be allowed to return with a condition of strict screening process in addition to a 14-day mandatory quarantine. The return can be done in batches of 1,000 to 2,000 and perhaps through Johor and even those who did not test positive at the point of return would still undertake the mandatory quarantine.
Nasir said, “If there are insufficient quarantine centers, the government should look at other assets, including community halls and schools, to be used as new centers.’’ There are currently 54 quarantine centers in Johor Baru.
Meanwhile, as the COVID-19 situation continues to explode in some countries with the number of deaths rising by the day, in others, there is some sparkle of hope that sooner or later the situation will subside.