PETALING JAYA,Oct 20: When the MCO was first announced in March, Panjawarnam T Sellaya, a single mother who commuted from Johor to Singapore for work, was told she would only need to stay on the island for two weeks.
“Now, seven months later, I’m still here. I haven’t seen my son, my mother, any of my family members since.”
When the border between Malaysia and Singapore slammed shut in March to contain the spread of Covid-19, thousands of families who rely on the two countries’ close ties were left stranded.
As her family’s sole earner, Panjawarnam had no choice but to stay put as a senior security advisor at a community hospital.
“Some of my colleagues have asked to return to Malaysia, but the company has told them if they leave, they’re not welcome back.”
Stuck in Singapore with no end date in sight, things only got worse in June when Panjawarnam’s grandmother passed away.
While her mother and sister travelled to Kuala Lumpur for the funeral, her 10-year-old son Thusshanth was placed with relatives for a month so that he could continue with school work.
” I wouldn’t say he was abused, but they did things that weren’t right to my son,” she said.
Panjawarnam’s only option was to make a virtual appearance by video call to pay her respects. When her godfather passed away a month later, she was once again forced to mourn over FaceTime.
“We just have to be strong, pray for the best, and hope that we can travel as soon as possible.”
Things haven’t been much easier for Faruk, a project manager who’s also been away from his wife and two young children since the pandemic first took hold in March.
“They were really struggling during the peak period of the lockdown, because I’m usually the one to stock the house with groceries and things like that.
“My youngest one hasn’t been without me since she was born. Sometimes she won’t speak to me because she’s upset with me, and she’s too young to understand why I’m not around.”
He has missed a number of milestones, with his 12th wedding anniversary and daughter’s 5th birthday all passing him by. With his son turning 11 at the end of the month, Faruk has accepted that he won’t be making that one either.
“My elder one is very sad that his papa won’t be there to celebrate with him.”
While limited travel has been allowed for workers between Singapore and Malaysia, many aren’t eligible, such as Singapore PR holders like Panjawarnam and Faruk.
“The arrangements should be for all,” Faruk laments, “the risk for everyone is the same, doesn’t matter who you are.”
Panjawarnam agrees, and hopes that at least for those with family ties to Johor, things can be loosened to allow families to reunite.
Even for those who do qualify under the official travel arrangements, the costs involved can be over RM5,000 once hotel quarantine is factored in, dissuading eligible applicants further.
As a result, the wait continues for many.
With a Covid-19 vaccine unlikely until next year, and the unpredictability of case spikes, a full border reopening appears to be far away, but that hasn’t extinguished the hopes of many people that they won’t have to wait until then to see their families again.