It is official that the border will remain closed till 31 March 2021, at least. God knows if the border closure will be lifted or extended after that. Since the border was closed last March 2020, it would mean a whole year of no commuting. The causeway has never seen 1 month of closure since it was opened for use 5 decades ago much less 13 months of traffic absence.
How are we affected depends on what JB means to each of us. If you are not the kind that would want to battle the immigration queue and your passport has not a single JB stamp on it over the last 5 years, then this closure would mean nothing to you.
If you are a frequent visitor lured by the $1 = RM3 exchange rate and you are after a different kind of lifestyle enjoyment then you will feel the freedom curbed and denied. But that is manageable after some time. Whether the border will open tomorrow or next year, the 10 months of restriction, have conditioned you to be able to live without JB.
But if you happened to be a Singaporean who has made JB some kind of home to you whether regular or weekend, then every day that the border remain closed is a ‘heart-pain’. By 2015, there were about 20,000 Singaporeans who have made a home in JB, either by renting or by purchasing a property. Those belonging to this category are the ones badly affected. Families separated, house unattended, future unknown.
Not many years ago, the Sultan and even the Menteri Besar were persuading Singaporeans to stay in JB. Singaporeans formed the largest pool of foreign home buyers and I dare say that the economy in JB was built significantly on the Singaporeans who trolled daily and weekly. When the Malaysian government decided on the border closure, they have also cut the access of thousands of Singaporeans from visiting their home. God knows what happened to the house, the furniture. Only skeletons would have remain of any pets kept.
Now what this simply means is that there will be a permanent economic damage to JB because no Singaporeans in their right mind would buy a property in JB after Covid. Why would anyone? What’s the point and purpose of purchasing a house that you could not have access to for more than a year? There are an oversupply of ‘good houses’ that were built and marketed for non-JB residents in mind. Those good houses might never see their owners now.
In fact, I won’t be surprised if the current house owners are considering liquidating the property in JB since it is now rendered useless or inaccessible. Where are the voices that convinced Singaporeans a home in JB will make a sound investment or choice? And with current surging of Covid infections in Malaysia (thanks to the Sabah election), the prospect of border opening looks dim. Without a solution in sight for Singaporean homeowners to return to JB, no new Singaporeans will be a home owner, now or in the future. Those current homeowners would simply have to wait patiently for the day they can open their JB house door and regain their normalcy. Even without visitors, over a dozen hotels in JB have ended their operations. How many more businesses and retails at the brink of closure, one can make a guess without being far from wrong.
JB, you will never be the same. You are not KL. All said, there are many of us that sorely miss you.