Bloomberg Opinion editor Rachel Rosenthal was joined by publicist Daniel Moss, who was at the forefront of reopening the border in Johor to discuss the simplicity of the restrictions and what this means for other parts of Asia. This is a modified transcript of their interview.
Rachel Rosenthal: Can you tell us something about why this border is so important and what it looks like on earth?
Daniel Moss: My very strong impression is that this is a revival in anticipation. South Malaysia and Singapore are, in fact, one economy and businesses have received support from the opening of the bridge. But it was not a big lift. Many of the people who flooded at midnight on April 1 were Malaysians working in Singapore who got stuck there during Covid. They met with their families. In some cases, people who have not seen the children since their birth – and could not take Friday out of work – but wanted to meet early in the morning on Friday when Singapore was asleep and return to work the next day. keep your spouse and newborn. Quite rare things.
Rosenthal: Is there a global comparison of this Malaysia-Singapore transition and what was it like before Covid?
Moss: Imagine commuting between Singapore and Malaysia in front of Covid as something like traveling between New York and New Jersey. Another analogy is the border crossings in Southern California or Southern Texas, where people commute. Singapore imports water, electricity, labor and many other things from Malaysia. If you look across the waterfront in the northern districts of Singapore, you will see high-rise apartments that are crowded with the shores of southern Malaysia. Many of them are owned by Singaporeans who would work in Singapore, get in a car and cross the bridge. According to no peace scenario, people did not consider that the land border, which is the border of a bridge about 700 meters long, should be closed. So closing was a big deal. Reopening is also a big deal.
Rosenthal: Why would Malaysia’s recovery be slow rather than immediate change after this reopening?
Moss: Social media – certainly from what we could see in Singapore – was flooded with pictures of what this bridge looked like a few minutes after midnight. Memy TikTok flew around the last countdown and thousands of motorcycles flowed across the bridge to checkpoints on the Malaysian side.
When I arrived from Singapore on Monday, I expected to see Johor as a city of prosperity, as if suddenly a gold rush had broken out again. I didn’t find that. In part, it could have been Monday. The second part is that many of the people who met in those early hours and on Fridays and Saturdays were Malaysians, so they did not spend a huge amount of money. They weren’t here to spend money. They were here to see friends. They were here to see the family, to hold their loved ones.
Moss: Rachel, you’ve been traveling abroad recently. What did it look like?
Rosenthal: It was nice to see Changi Airport, which is usually busy, looking closer to what it used to be. My family and I went to Sri Lanka on vacation when the kids had vacation at school. Even before some of the latest announcements, travel within the region began to open up. Countries have eased their demands on what needs to be done to get in and out. Sri Lanka, for example, did not even have a test entry requirement. This is a big, big development compared to what was just a few months ago, when there were piles of paperwork and all sorts of tests. Many of these things are now starting to go sideways. So we get to the point where travel is starting to look more normal. This is the main reason why people live in Singapore. It is a small, small island. People live here not only for traveling but also for work. They have regional roles and they will jump to Thailand or Vietnam or, you know, it used to be Hong Kong, and all these things have been available in a short time. This aspect of life seems to be just beginning to recover.
Moss: What a great existential threat has there been working from home for global cities that have based much of their business on being regional hubs? If you can do work from your living room, why do you need to be in a regional center?
Rosenthal: Part of the appeal of being an expat used to be the idea that you could decide on Thursday that you want to go to Bangkok, get a cheap flight and go on a weekend. Dan, you wrote a great column about it, saying you have no reason to sit here in Singapore, 10,000 miles from your family if you can’t travel. Now I see two different phenomena: The first is the struggle to get people back to the office, because some companies have to justify their huge rent and office space. Another is travel. No matter how eager people travel – for work and play – I still feel that there is a lot of reluctance to return to the office. The Singaporeans in particular – and the managers I’ve spoken to – really enjoyed working from home, which is unlike other people around the world. I think you get on the road much faster than you get people back to the office.
Moss: One thing people have mentioned to me is that if you work from home, not only can you wear anything, but you don’t have to wear a mask either. Now in Singapore, you still have to wear masks indoors, but things have changed quite significantly in this department.
Rosenthal: Can you describe what you observed in Covid’s relaxed regime in Singapore?
Moss: You haven’t had to wear a mask outside since Tuesday, March 29, and social groups with 10 members have been allowed. That’s five. You can have a drink after 22:30 in a public place. That night, I walked into a downtown bar at about 10:25 p.m., and I thought I might have a drink. They barely let me down. At 22:35 were the last orders. Still, it was great and it started carefully. You could really notice the change on Saturday night. The bars and restaurants were filmed live after 22:30. I talked to a lot of people and I admit that I was among them, who was a little worse on Sunday morning due to relaxation. Many places with food and drink made closing at 10:30 pm and social distancing worked. Since the relaxation was announced, many people have said, “You know what, we’ll stop eating at 10:30, but you can still have a drink.” The kitchen staff used to finish things at 10:30 pm and go home to some family members while they were still upstairs. Outdoor wear is still required in Malaysia. Singapore relaxed ahead of Malaysia in this regard.
Rosenthal: One of the things I noticed this weekend was the music that was back. We stayed in Raffles and I heard music and fuss in the iconic Long Bar. It’s one of the things you don’t completely notice when he’s gone. Suddenly, these are signs of life and seeing photos of people on Instagram or social media with faces grouped in groups of 10 is a big change. It will be a real psychological support for many people who visit Singapore. With the resumption of travel, not only do people leave, but people return for the first time, making them feel like forever. I have seen people who did not come from Singapore or live here – from South Africa, Australia, Spain and Italy. It was really refreshing to see some new life.
Rosenthal: Hong Kong is often compared to Singapore. What do you think about how these two cities split?
Moss: Singapore is quite a pleasant place. The last few months of reopening have been going on carefully but consistently. The news from Hong Kong was mostly gloomy, gloomy, gloomy. Hong Kong places people in equivalent excavated shipping containers, often without Wi-Fi for up to a month, which is a sin to dare to leave the regional interconnected node. Singapore did not do so, to his great credit. Will Singapore replace Hong Kong as a financial center tomorrow? not
Rosenthal: I think Singapore and Hong Kong have always had a bit of a regional rivalry. Singapore is definitely reopening – making progress and moving in the right direction. The extremely low bar set by Hong Kong probably does Singapore a favor. There are many families who can choose to live between these two places and choose Singapore.
However, Singapore will try to catch up with Hong Kong. From the size of Hong Kong’s capital markets through its IPOs to trade turnover to the creation of core businesses – I think a lot of it – China is the epicenter and Hong Kong remains the portal. I have come to the conclusion that Hong Kong and Singapore will always complement each other. When Covid is behind us, I hope Hong Kong will return to where he was.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Rachel Rosenthal is the editor of Bloomberg Opinion. Prior to that, she was a market reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong.
Daniel Moss is a Bloomberg Opinion publicist covering Asian economies. He previously served as Bloomberg News’s executive editor for the global economy and led teams in Asia, Europe and North America.
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