SINGAPORE — The families of Hasfanizam, 45, and Farhan Kasri, 30, are getting a big surprise on Monday (29 November) – the two men secretly booked a bus ticket home to Johor Bahru without informing their respective wives and children.
Hasfanizam, who works in the maritime industry, even sent his family the initial notification he got from Transtar Travel that tickets had been sold out for the next 30 days. "They were quite upset, actually," said the father of three teens with a chuckle.
Together with his friend and flatmate Farhan, the duo landed much coveted bus tickets on the first bus out of Queen Street Bus Terminal, scheduled to depart at 9am on Monday morning. Using one laptop and two mobiles, they secured tickets within an hour.
Hasfanizam was headed home to Pasir Gudang, while Farhan's sister was set to give him a lift to Kulai from Larkin Sentral. Both men had not seen their families in months. Farhan only saw his second daughter, now aged 11 months, briefly when she was born in January this year.
In light of the new Omicron variant, which has already led some countries to shut their borders, is Farhan worried about the possible impact on Singapore and Malaysia? The technician told Yahoo News Singapore, "We just follow this first. After this, we also not sure what (will) happen. So we just grab this chance now."
The two men were among the lucky ones who landed bus tickets on the day that a joint land and air Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) launched between Singapore and Malaysia. The first phase of the land VTL will see a total daily quota of about 2,900 travellers, with 1,440 passengers crossing each way, while a joint air VTL for travel between Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) also took off on Monday.
A total of 32 designated bus services per operator will enter each country per day, with a maximum capacity of 45 "fully seated" passengers per trip. Transtar Travel will operate 32 daily designated trips – 16 from Malaysia and 16 trips from Singapore – between Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange in the city-state and Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru.
Handal Indah – also known as Causeway Link – will similarly operate 32 daily trips between Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal and Queen Street Bus Terminal in Singapore. According to media reports and Telegram group chats, the demand for tickets was such that many waited hours just to enter the website, while "emergency maintenance" on the Transtar website was needed due to high traffic.
Among other requirements, those entering Malaysia must be Malaysian citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders. They must be fully vaccinated and also have a valid negative pre-departure COVID-19 antigen rapid test (ART) or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result certificate.
On Saturday, Singapore authorities also announced that all travellers arriving from Malaysia via the VTL Land route will be required to take an ART test upon arrival.
Meeting grandparents for the first time
Since the start of a partial lockdown in March 2020, thousands of Malaysians working in Singapore have been unable to return home, largely due to the prohibitive cost of lengthy quarantine requirements. The VTL has restored quarantine-free travel between the two countries and will be progressively extended to more travellers.
On Monday, despite the searing heat of the day and a slight delay in the arrival of the buses, travellers at Queen Street were in high spirits.
Among them were contract manager Shanthakumar Sinniah, 34, and his wife Yunisha Krishnan, 33, who is a nurse. While their siblings are also based in the city-state, the couple had not been home for almost two years. Asked how it felt to be finally going back to JB, Sinniah said, "Happy, because we actually came (as) two and then going back (as) three, because he (was) born here, haven't go and see the grandparents yet."
With two large suitcases, backpacks and a pram in tow, the couple were bringing their toddler son Dev Arreesh, aged 13 months, home to meet their parents for the first time. It will be a short four-day trip due to their work commitments.
A nurse who took care of COVID patients, Krishnan recalled a "quite difficult" and hectic time during her pregnancy as first-time parents, with constant calls to her mother for advice. "We handled my pregnancy, just the both of us. As new parents, we know nothing about babies and all that."
Her maternity leave was also cut short due to the demands of her job, but her employers took her off the COVID ward during her pregnancy.
Krishnan said with a laugh, "I'm just worried, I don't know how he's going to respond, because he (has only seen our parents) through video calls and all that, so first time seeing face to face. It's our first journey by bus, I hope we can handle him."
'I'm longing for that physical touch'
Asked how it felt to be finally going home after almost two years, insurance broker and the second of three children Melissa Liau, 30, said, "Very, very excited. I can't wait to see my family. I'm going to hug my parents." Despite weekly video calls with the family, she is "longing for that physical touch".
Liau was another of the lucky ones, purchasing her ticket within five minutes of accessing the Causeway Link website. She will also have a long break in JB – she is only returning to Singapore in January as her company is allowing her to work from her hometown. She is also not too concerned about the possible impact of the Omicron variant for now, given that she is able to work remotely.
As of now, Liau was looking forward to having a nice meal with the family on Monday evening. "All my brothers are in Malaysia now, except me. They're waiting for me."
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