Featured News VTLs, Johore and Batam: Take care of the heartland uncles and aunties...

VTLs, Johore and Batam: Take care of the heartland uncles and aunties too, not just the District Niners

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Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

For Singapore, managing a pandemic up to now has meant keeping the population safe within its borders. As it opens up, the focus will be on border traffic – people entering and departing – and less what is happening in the Covid-19 hotspots of Bukit Merah, Geylang East, Toa Payoh and Jurong. So, let’s skip all this angsty discussion on vaxxers and anti-vaxxers and move on. The question is: who deserves more attention from here on – the rich and the elite or the heartlanders who also need to get out of this small island and regain their mental health?

Good news, of course, for the more mobile Singaporeans, among whom would be those flying off to study or to see family and friends abroad. Still good but less euphoric news for those who could find no employment for their skills in Singapore, their own country, and have to seek work in other countries.

Just look at the figures.

TODAY reported: “Since the vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) scheme allowing quarantine-free travel kicked off in September, Singapore Airlines Group has received nearly 160,000 bookings on its SIA and Scoot flights, and it is taking steps to ramp up capacity to meet an expected boom in demand in the coming months.

“Passenger volume for the carrier has increased to 37 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels and that figure is expected to increase to 43 per cent by next month, SIA CEO Goh Choon Phong said at its half-year performance results briefing on Friday (Nov 12).”

Singapore has VTLs with Germany, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Holland, Spain, Britain, the US, Australia, Switzerland, South Korea (from Nov 15) and Malaysia, Finland and Sweden (all from Nov 29).

Provided nature and mankind’s misbehaviour do not throw us yet another curve ball in the pandemic story, travel should be back – with a vengeance – for those who are able to get out. Watch the VTL screen. Think of all the pent-up frustrations and accumulated and untouched savings brought about by pre-vaccine Covid-19.

But what about the heartlanders, especially the still fairly active Merdeka Generation and not the older Pioneers (and let’s confine ourselves to the vaccinated)?

This is their perspective.

Can only meet in pairs to dine in coffee shops and hawker centres. No karaokes and pubs to go to. No (ok, legal) massage places to patronise. No affordable package trips to Thailand, Vietnam or China. More hurting, they have not been able to hop over to Johor or Batam for weekend escapades.

We need to start some kind of trial VTL with, first, Batam. Unlike Bali which is an iconic world tourist spot and not quite next door, nearby, more affordable Batam has been fairly popular with Singaporeans out to spend a day or two there to recharge their batteries. Start with a limited number of outbound Singapore visitors, fully vaccinated, fully tested all the way to and from Batam.

No reason why we can’t do the same with Johor. Where there is a will, there should be a way.

The priorities of heartlanders or ordinary Singaporeans are as important as those regarded as part of the more socially or economically valuable.


$4,000 fine for damaging a national monument?


In 1994, American student Michael Fay, 18, was sentenced to four months jail, a fine of S$3,500 and six strokes of the cane (later reduced to four) for vandalising cars and stealing street signs. That incident brought a strain in Singapore-US relations and stirred a public debate between those (here and in the US itself) who supported the punishment and those who thought it was excessive.

On Friday (Nov 12), Stephan Kovalkov, a 25-year-old Singaporean, was fined $4,000 for wakeboarding and damaging the Civilian War Memorial, according to The Straits Times.

This is the first time someone has been sentenced for defacing, damaging or interfering with national monuments, the court heard.

District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam said during sentencing: “Deterrence is the key factor to deter others from doing the same and (for us) to cherish our national monuments.”

$4,000 a deterrence?

The memorial was unveiled on Feb 15, 1967 – the 25th anniversary of Singapore’s fall to Japanese forces in 1942. It is built over a burial chamber that contains exhumed remains from the mass graves of civilian war victims in Singapore, and memorial services are held on Feb 15 each year in their memory.


Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.






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