Restricted express boat services put a damper on festival cheer

A firefighter sanitises an express boat.

SIBU, May 18: Despite express boats services in the state resuming on May 12, travel restrictions placed by the authorities on certain routes are proving to be hurdles for certain rural residents preparing to welcome Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Gawai Dayak.

Express boat travel between Sibu to Song and Kapit is still suspended as Sibu is categorised as a Covid-19 yellow zone.

However express boat travel between Kapit and Song is permitted as both areas are green zones, on the condition that operators follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) and that they were allowed to do so by the Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB).

Also allowed are the Nanga Gaat, Putai, Pelagus, and Belaga routes but subject to demand. This is to prevent congestion, with more travellers expected as people prefer to return to their rural hometowns to celebrate Gawai. However, they would need to apply for travel permits from the police before buying the express boat fare.

Express boat travel had been suspended since March 23, after the Movement Control Order (MCO) first came into effect on March 18.

Noiraniesha Nordin who hails from Song lamented that she would have to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Sibu as express boat travel is currently only permitted between Covid-19 green zones.

“As I am now in Sibu which is a yellow zone, I will have to celebrate Raya here instead of Song where I normally do every year,” she said.

Kapit resident, Patrick Hans who is employed in the private sector also expressed unhappiness that he could not travel to Sibu to buy Gawai goodies.

“Express boats from Kapit are not allowed to travel to Sibu as Sibu is still in the yellow zone. At this moment, expressboats can only travel between Kapit, Song and Belaga,” he said.

However, Franzita Bungkong from Ulu Belaga is looking forward to returning home.

“I am lucky that I can go back to Ulu Belaga from Kapit to celebrate Hari Raya as the police have approved my travel permit application. After buying the ticket, I was told to observe social distancing while in the boat,” he said.

According to SRB Kapit enforcement officer, Jerry Lenggir, passengers using express boats on permitted routes need to have their body temperature checked before they can board the boat.

“They are also required to wear masks and practise social distancing by sitting in the designated seats. They are disallowed to ask the ‘juragan’ (pilot) to stop at any place they want except at the approved place,” he added. — DayakDaily