Singapore, Malaysia aim to expand land VTL to general travellers from mid-Dec; to start talks on sea VTL

SINGAPORE – Singapore and Malaysia are aiming to expand the land Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme, which began on Monday (Nov 29), to include general travellers from mid-December, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Discussions are also under way to pilot a sea VTL, to allow port calls between Singapore cruise ships to Malaysian ports, said PM Lee after meeting his counterpart, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is here on an official visit.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Ismail on Monday, Mr Lee said these moves would have to take into account the public health situation.

“We are all watching anxiously the new Omicron variant, to see how it will behave,” he said at the Istana.

“But even if Omicron disrupts these plans, our goal will still be to have more open borders between Singapore and Malaysia, and after some time we will be able to make further progress.”

Mr Ismail is in Singapore for his first official visit as prime minister. He and Mr Lee had earlier witnessed the launch of the land VTL at Woodlands Checkpoint.

The VTL cross-border travel scheme allows 1,440 citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders quarantine-free entry into each country on designated buses daily.

Mr Lee said the VTL is starting with “modest numbers”. “It will take us some time before we get anywhere near to pre-Covid levels. But we will progress step by step, and get it working first.”

Other areas of cooperation discussed by the two leaders include the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link project.

Mr Lee said construction was ongoing and he looked forward to passenger service commencing by end-2026.

He also said that both leaders discussed the issue of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail, with Mr Ismail suggesting reviving discussions on the project, which had been terminated.

Said Mr Lee: “Singapore looks forward to receiving more details from Malaysia so that we can study them and consider the matter.”

Malaysia PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob (centre, left) with PM Lee Hsien Loong (centre, right) inspecting the guard of honour at the Istana on Nov 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singapore also continues to support the development of the economic development corridor Iskandar Malaysia in Johor, Mr Lee said, noting that the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia will be convening next month.

Mr Lee also said he was glad to have met Mr Ismail in person to reaffirm the strong bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia, and looked forward to hosting him for a Leaders’ Retreat next year.

He said he had enjoyed good relations with Mr Ismail’s predecessors, most recently Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

“I look forward to building equally strong relations with PM Ismail Sabri, and continuing to strengthen our bilateral ties and cooperation.”

The two countries are close neighbours with a shared history, Mr Lee said. “Our economies are extensively intertwined. Our peoples share strong bonds of kinship, friendship, and memories. So the closing of borders was very tough on both sides.”

During the pandemic, Singapore and Malaysia continued to work closely with one another, he said. Even as borders were closed, both sides worked hard to maintain essential business and official travel.

Schemes such as the Reciprocal Green Lane, the Periodic Commuting Agreement for workers, and arrangements for urgent compassionate travel were implemented, he noted.

Mr Ismail was instrumental in making these happen, when he previously co-chaired the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee on Covid-19, said PM Lee.

Mr Ismail received a welcome ceremony at the Istana, where he called on President Halimah Yacob and had a meeting with PM Lee.

His visit is the first by a Malaysian PM since Dr Mahathir Mohamad made a similar visit in November 2018.

PM Lee Hsien Loong (right) and Malaysia PM Ismail Sabri Yaakob with the Dendrobium Ismail Sabri Yaakob, at the orchid-naming ceremony at the Istana, on Nov 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

At the Istana, Mr Ismail was also presented with a spray of pink-purple orchids named in his honour.

The Dendrobium Ismail Sabri Yaakob, as it was named, is a “robust and free-flowering” orchid hybrid that produces upright inflorescences that measure up to 50 cm in length with 25 to 35 flowers, said a statement from the National Parks Board (NParks).

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