Sarawak rural folks in transport limbo

The Star pic


By S. Harrish

WITH bus services, express boats and longboats cancelling their services in Sarawak, many people have been caught off-guard by the sudden disruption in public transport services during the Movement Control Order period.

Among those most affected by the cancellations are people from rural areas who came to cities and towns for essential services, but are now stranded with no means of going back.

They are desperately seeking private transport to return to their rural settlements, and some have to fork out hefty amounts to hire private transporters.

“The fears over the current Covid-19 outbreak have caused many transport companies to suddenly cancel their services,” one of those stranded, Adli Wahab, told The Star.

“They did not give any advance notice to passengers. Many of us who came to Miri find that we cannot go back because of the sudden cancellations.

“I have to hire private van and the cost is very high,” said Adli, who came to Miri from a kampung in Tatau district which is about 300km away.

Society for the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Sarawak secretary-general Michael Jok said the cancellations were too abrupt.

“Many public buses and express boat operations were stopped within a 24-hour period. Sarawak has a rural population of about one million who are largely dependent on public transport services,” he said.

He suggested the operators implement strict limits on passenger loads and enforce stringent seating arrangements where all passengers are seated at least a metre apart.

There must be no socialising or physical contact, and this can help stop any infection from spreading, he added.