Yee Lisan burst into tears as she waved her hands in front of a hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, where her husband was spending another 17 days in isolation.
The 32-year-old marketing manager and husband Roy Ferdinand, 36, had been separated for nearly seven months due to travel restrictions brought on by the pandemic. But as Malaysia gradually reopens its borders, thousands of couples forced to love from a distance can look forward to reuniting again, including Yee and Ferdinand.
Being able to see each other in the flesh after so long feels like a massive weight has been lifted off her shoulders, Yee said, although she has to wait a little longer until Ferdinand ends his 21-day mandatory hotel quarantine required by Hong Kong authorities.
“He can see me but I cannot see him,” she told Coconuts recently about standing outside a designated quarantine hotel on Tuesday. “We are literally one kilometer away and in the same land now so I’m really grateful but also can’t wait to ‘continue’ our lives.”
Yee moved to Hong Kong in April to start a new job and has been waiting for her husband, who resigned in August, to come and join her and explore the city.
Ferdinand was supposed to arrive on Aug. 21 but a sudden lockdown in Hong Kong, caused by rising COVID-19 cases, had forced him to postpone his trip by several weeks to Oct. 9, just two days shy of Malaysia removing the requirement for travelers to obtain a permit prior to departure.
“I’ve been waiting for him to go on these adventures with me, as cliche as it sounds,” she said. “Explore the food and the territory because HK has hikes and beaches all about half an hour away from where we stay.”
Since allowing permit-free travels for Malaysian citizens on Monday, airlines like Emirates have been reporting a surge in flight bookings, a spokesperson said. Popular destinations for Emirates include Auckland, London, and Denmark. Local budget carrier AirAsia is allowing “essential travel” to places like Dhaka and Singapore, a representative said.
Obtaining a travel permit from Malaysian immigration was an administrative chore bogged by unclear instructions, Yee recounted. The authorities were initially unsure of whether Ferdinand needed a permit at all. When they decided he needed one, he was already days away from departure and had to scramble to submit documents personally to the immigration department.
Ferdinand arrived in Hong Kong later than the couple’s two cats, who are under quarantine from August to Christmas week.
“Can’t believe the cats flew in earlier than my husband,” Yee said.
Li May and her boyfriend. Photo: Li May
Li May, 31, a member of a group rallying support for couples forced into long-distance relationships, spent this week searching for flights to Munich, Germany, so she can be together with her boyfriend. The couple has been apart ever since the coronavirus outbreak began 20 months ago, keeping in touch every day through the internet.
“I miss everything about him! It is mostly the physical presence of him, to do things together as being in lockdown at home has been extremely isolating,” the Selangor-based Malaysian said. She has joined the more than 8,200 members in the “Love is Not Tourism Malaysia” Facebook group pushing for couples’ rights to travel.
The thought of reuniting with her boyfriend makes her, “so happy that I always shed a tear or two just thinking about it,” she said.
Crystal Au and her boyfriend. Photo: Crystal Au
But foreigners are still generally not allowed to enter Malaysia unless for business reasons, causing many couples to remain separated.
“The abolishment of MyTravelPass only applies to exit permits but many bi-national couples and families are still separated because of entry requirements,” the online group’s cofounder, Crystal Au, 27, said. She has been separated from her boyfriend for nine months but has booked a flight out to Denmark to see him next month.
“I am looking forward to seeing him in front of me again and a warm hug, I probably will cry after seeing him again especially when we were hopeless, [not knowing] when we could see each other again due to the uncertainty,” Au said, later adding: “I hope in the future there will be some relaxation or exemption for entry and we will keep pushing for it.”
The “Love is Not Tourism Malaysia” members would often email or send a tweet to lawmakers to garner support and awareness for their plight. Only one politician has publicly shown support so far.
Former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq had urged the government to reunite the thousands of Malaysians separated from their partners and families abroad. In a TikTok video posted on Sep. 25, Saddiq filmed himself having a discussion with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and writing to the Health and Home Ministries.
“Imagine being separated from your husband, your wife, your partner, your kids, for almost two years. Could you survive that?… People would become depressed and stressed,” he said in the video. Two weeks later, the government announced it was scrapping travel permits for Malaysians flying out of the country.