BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Brunei government has barred China’s Hubei residents from entering the country starting January 30 as part of preventive measures to contain the new coronavirus outbreak.

Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said anyone who visited Hubei province – the centre of the coronavirus epidemic – in the past 14 days will be denied entry to Brunei, except Brunei citizens and permanent residents.

In a press conference to announce the preventive measures on Thursday, the minister warned that the risk of imported coronavirus cases into Brunei is “considered high” even though no cases have been detected in the country thus far.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said anyone who has been in China in the past two weeks will also be required to undergo self-isolation for 14 days.

The virus has killed 170 people and infected 7,711 in China. At least 21 countries across Asia, Middle East, Europe and North America have also confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Ministry of Education said 42 out of the 73 Brunei students have been evacuated from China since December 2019.

The health minister said another 29 students are expected to return to Brunei on Friday. All of the students will undergo self-isolation for 14 days.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on bringing [home] the remaining two students in the near future,” he added.

Thirty-nine Hengyi Industries workers who recently returned to Brunei from China for the Lunar New Year celebration are also in self-isolation for 14 days.

The students and Hengyi employees will be transferred to Tutong Isolation Centre for further review if they develop symptoms, the health minister said.

Symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

He added that those who are unwell and currently in China are advised to delay their return to Brunei and seek assistance from the Brunei embassy in Beijing.

Brunei citizens and residents have also been advised to avoid travelling to Hubei province and postpone non-essential travel to China.

All of the above measures are temporary and will be reviewed from time to time, he added.

Brunei has also postponed official government visits to China and government officials are advised not to travel to China at this time.

The minister added that government-linked companies must also decline invitations to travel to China during this period.

Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong said they expect a decrease in Chinese tourist arrivals this year in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We expect tourist arrivals to [decline] this year compared to last year but this will be the same [situation] in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, so the [whole] region will be affected,” he said.

China has been the top tourism market for Brunei for the last three years. A total of 49,533 Chinese tourists were recorded from January to August last year.

China has ordered all its travel agencies to suspend sales of tour packages, which the minister said was part of their efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Brunei began thermal screening at its international airport on January 21 following the increasing number of confirmed cases and evidence of human-to-human transmission in other countries.

In addition, incoming passengers will have to submit a health declaration form while incoming passengers in cruise ships and other vessels will also be subjected to temperature screening.

He added,” Businesses will feel the pinch of the impact of the virus and we just have to accept that. Our side [Brunei] as well as China are trying our best to stop the spread of this virus”.