JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia As buses of vaccinated Malaysians working in Singapore were ferried across the Causeway Bridge that connects the island of Singapore with the Malaysian peninsula, thousands of people were reunited with their families following two years of Covid lockdowns.
Once one of the busiest land borders between Malaysia and Singapore, the causeway that connects the two countries was shut for nearly two years due to the pandemic.
"As we safely reopen our borders, there will be positive cases at points of entry. Risk assessment, isolation and monitoring close contacts will become the norm," said Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
Under the first phase, only 1,440 travelers, who must be citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders, are allowed to cross from each country per day.
Air travel also reopened this week with fewer restrictions, allowing any passenger who is fully vaccinated to travel quarantine-free between the two countries.
"It's already over one year. I never meet her, but when I see her today, I'm happy, I'm very happy," retiree Siva Ganesan said after greeting his wife, Uma Devi Balakrishnan, at the bus terminal in southern Johor state. His wife works as a cleaner in Singapore and was stranded when borders were shut.
More than 100,000 Malaysians were believed stranded in Singapore after the border closed in March 2020.
Across the border, Chua Pei Sze and her two daughters, age 10 and 7, were first in line for the first bus heading to Malaysia. "Finally, we can get to bring my daughters to see their grandmother in person ... video calls just aren't enough," said the 43-year-old, who works in the shipping industry.
To mark the reopening of the border, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob drove across the Causeway for an official visit, and was greeted by his Singapore counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, at the checkpoint.
The two leaders said at a news conference that the limits on land border crossings will be progressively relaxed beginning next month to include general travelers and other modes of transportation besides buses. A second land link is also expected to be restored soon.
"Even if the Omicron disrupts these plans, our goal will still be to have more open borders ... and I am quite confident that after some time we will be able to make further progress," declared Lee.