Over 100K Malaysians cross the border to work in Singapore every day. What if they’re in essential services?

By March 17, 2020Current

TL;DR – We have been saving up for a rainy day for 55 years. Well, the rainy day is here.

Hours and hours after Malaysia announced their Movement Control Order last night, there’s finally a FAQ about it from their National Security Council (NSC). I’m highlighting the six “big” rules and also the part about movement into Singapore here, but you can read the rest here.

The six basic restrictions imposed between March 18 and 31 are as follows:

  • All mass gatherings are banned.
  • Malaysians are not allowed to travel abroad.
  • There’s a restriction on foreigners that can visit Malaysia.
  • All daycare centres, schools and learning institutions are to close.
  • All higher education institutions and skills training centres are to close.
  • All government and private services are to be shut down, except those providing essential services.

Question: I work in Singapore. Am I allowed to commute to my office in Singapore?

No. The order applies to all individuals in this country. All individuals who work in neighbouring countries but live in Malaysia are not allowed to travel during the period and should inform their employers.

While you can read more about how Singapore will not starve even if not a single morsel of food comes through from Malaysia for the next two weeks, some people are also concerned about the movement of people across the border.

SG Food Story: We will not starve even if not a single morsel of food comes from Malaysia next 2 weeks

Did you know that some 300,000 Malaysians work in Singapore? It is believed that about half of them cross the border with Singapore every day?

Yes, this means that over 100,000 Malaysians travel in and out every day to earn a living in Singapore. Yes, our businesses will be impacted; in fact, even the average Singaporeans’ everyday lives will be affected. But it is also important to recognise that he economic impact on Malaysia will be as significant as on Singapore, and the political impact might be even greater in Malaysia.

But for now, even as we inch closer and closer to the start point of the Movement Control Order that is supposed to start from 18th March (Wed), I think it’s safe to assume that Malaysia might still tweak and change the rules as we go along. So we should be planning for the worst case scenario and also be prepared for changes.

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So now, we have ascertained that we should be OK with food and essential items, thanks for the foresight and forward planning of our Government. Yes, we have been working on the Singapore Food Story for years, and diversifying our sources, including some local production.

But what about essential services?

Especially where these services or work are carried out by large numbers of Malaysians? One instance would be the public transport sector where we have a big number of Malaysian Bus Captains. Who’s gonna be driving us to and fro during the next 14 days if our Malaysian Bus Captains are trapped in Malaysia and cannot travel out to work?

It looks like since the announcement was out last night, different people in different ministries and government agencies have been working hard to identify potential problems and also to explore options. As initially unclear as the guidelines were last night, I’d imagine that the Singapore authorities had already assumed the worst (i.e. Movement Control Order does not exempt work pass holders and Malaysian workers cannot be allowed to travel out to Singapore for work every day), and started to work on it.

Like what Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said, “Malaysia’s “lock-down” announcement late last night was sudden, but not a surprise.”

He also shared that the Ministry of Transport have put into practice their contingency plans.

By the early evening, he was ready to announce that the public transport operators (SBST, SMRT, Tower Transit Singapore, Go Ahead Singapore), with the assistance of NTWU and LTA, had secured sufficient hotel accommodation for all our Malaysian Bus Captains who wish to continue to work and stay in Singapore.


The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), in response to Malaysia’s movement control order, has announced at the Multi-Ministry Taskforce press conference this evening that support will be provided to companies with affected Malaysian workers:

  • For every Malaysian worker in Singapore affected by the lockdown, MOM will provide the employer with $50 a day, for a total of 14 days.
  •  The amount will be used to help employers offset the cost of accommodation for their Malaysian workers.
  • MOM able to match more than 10,000 workers to accommodation on 17 March 2020



A quick check of all four bus operators showed that all four have updated on their Facebook pages that all’s well and they have secured temporary accommodation at several hotels for our Malaysian Bus Captains (BCs).

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Here’s one from SMRT.

Know what’s running through my head now?

The rainy day is here.

Thank goodness we have a good government with foresight and the smarts. The smarts to do things right and fair, the smarts to make science-based decisions, the smarts to coordinate and execute things.

But just as importantly, thank goodness we have money, we have reserves. Like what ex-NMP Calvin Cheng said in a Facebook post,

How many Governments will have the firepower to first stop the virus AND THEN prop up the economy and businesses after?

Well, Singapore does.

We have been saving up for a rainy day for 55 years.

At regular intervals, we have people telling us to start spending our reserves, that we are being too stingy etc.

And our Government keeps saying not yet, not yet. It’s not a rainy day yet.

Well, the rainy day is here.

Aren’t you glad we didn’t listen to those people now?

And just today, Calvin Cheng published another post, about Keeping Calm Since August 10th 1965.

In case you cannot read the post in full, here it is.

“Keeping Calm Since August 10th 1965”

My fellow Singaporeans.

In the next few weeks, it may look like the world is ending. And it might already feel so, with the world shutting down, countries closing their borders.

This message is especially for the young ones.

If there is one country that has been preparing for disaster, it has been Singapore.

In fact, we have been preparing for disaster since August 10th 1965.

When a nation is born from ashes, reliant on the country that just kicked you out for even food and water, you prepare for the world to end from DAY ONE.

We have been stockpiling fuel. Stockpiling food. We are mostly self-reliant on water, even if our neighbours laugh at us for drinking our own piss. (WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?!) We have been stockpiling medical supplies. They are stockpiled in secret warehouses all across the island, which you probably walk past every day. You don’t see it but trust me, it is all there in places bigger than the biggest supermarket warehouses you have ever seen.

Most of all, we have been stockpiling money.

There have been annoying people throughout the years who have publicly said that this ‘siege mentality’ is unhealthy for Singapore. That it was was time to relax. I know many young people who grew up amongst the gleaming skyscrapers who think so.

Well, when your country is founded on the premise that it won’t survive (and even Malaysia thought so), you have to live every day as if there isn’t going to be a tomorrow.

You see action teams all over the island reacting fast.

Medical facilities ready to go.

Supermarket shelves re-stocked overnight.

Dormitories and other accommodation right now are being prepared for Malaysian workers who are stuck – and it has been just over 12 hours since our neighbours dropped the bombshell on us.

You really think we reacted overnight ?

No, these are plans laid out carefully over 55 years, every day living like we did since August 10th 1965.

When we thought there wasn’t going to be a tomorrow.

And if worst comes to worst, if it’s every country for itself, we have ammunition stockpiled. Our F16s are ready to fly back to protect us within minutes. Our NSmen who might complain every time there is reservist, stand ready to defend this island against whoever thinks they can take advantage of a global crisis. You come, we make sure you get a sock in the face you don’t forget. Did this happen overnight? No. We have been prepared since August 10th 1965.

The world isn’t going to end. But even if it were, my fellow Singaporeans, we are in one of the world’s safest and best prepared places. If you see everything that is being done and you are not amazed, then you have no idea how prepared we are.

So keep calm and look after each other. Don’t be selfish. We are prepared. And if Singaporeans stick together, we will live through this unscathed. Majulah Singapura.



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Gabrielle Teo

Author Gabrielle Teo

I read lots, and I also spend an indecent amount of time trying to get my mostly unpopular opinions published. Oh, I argue a lot with fellow Singaporeans who complain incessantly about Singapore too.

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