Malaysia’s decision this week to impose a lockdown of its borders attested to the seriousness with which it was treating the spread of the coronavirus. Although fatalities are low, more than half of the cases in Malaysia stem from a religious event which was attended by about 16,000 people, including Singapore and Brunei nationals. Malaysia now has the highest tally of infections in South-east Asia, putting it in the unenviable position of having to take drastic steps immediately. Consequently, for two weeks, its citizens will not be allowed to travel overseas, and those returning from abroad will have to undergo a health examination and quarantine themselves for 14 days. Tourists will not be allowed to enter the country during the period. Also, all schools, universities and businesses nationwide will be shut, and all public gatherings banned. Clearly, these moves will disrupt the economy and society, but they are necessary to protect lives.
Singaporeans would empathise with the travails of their northern neighbours. Within the Republic, thoughts have turned to how Singaporeans themselves would be affected by the Malaysian move. Concerns centre principally on the security of Singapore’s food supply, which is linked to regular access to Malaysian produce, and the prospects of Singapore companies which employ many Malaysian workers who commute daily. These movements of food and people are such a staple of everyday bilateral relations that any disruption cannot but be troubling.