BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Travellers entering Brunei in all of its seven entry points will be subjected to temperature screening starting February 1, in response to the novel coronavirus epidemic.

Director of Environmental Health Services Dr Hjh Anie Hariyani Hj Abdul Rahman said the health screening at entry points is an extension to preventive measures at the Brunei International Airport.

The Brunei government recently tightened its borders after the coronavirus spread from China’s central city of Wuhan in Hubei province to at least 24 countries.

Brunei began thermal screening at its international airport on January 21 and banned the entry of foreigners who recently travelled to Hubei.

National carrier Royal Brunei Airlines has also reduced its flights to Beijing and Hong Kong, while flights to Shanghai, Haikou, Nanning, Changsha and Hangzhou have been suspended until February 29.

Speaking on the sidelines of the health minister’s visit to Kuala Lurah Immigration Post, Dr Hjh Anie said thermal screening is not suitable for use at land control posts as passengers are in their cars.

Kuala Lurah is one of Brunei’s busiest immigration control posts, with over five million arrivals and departures last year, according to data from the Immigration and National Registration Department.

Health personnel checks the temperature of travellers entering Kuala Lurah immigration control post while Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohammad Isham looks on. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

The body temperatures of passengers are checked by on-site health personnel using non-contact infrared thermometers.

Travellers who develop symptoms, including a temperature of 38 degrees celsius will be isolated and taken to Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital for further tests and their travel history will be checked.

“As we are now screening all ports of entry, the health personnel are working according to shift. We are working on getting additional manpower and additional equipment to ensure the welfare of the staff are taken into consideration and to make sure we are fully capable,” she added.

The director said there has been an increase in the number of patients with influenza-like illness in the country, which is unrelated to the coronavirus.

A total of 6,274 people received treatment for flu at health centres and hospitals from December 1, 2019 to January 17, 2020 compared with 5,163 in the same period in 2018, according to the health ministry.

Dr Hjh Anie said there is a higher demand for seasonal flu shots and the ministry is working on getting more flu vaccines.

Director of Environmental Health Services Dr Hjh Anie Hariyani Hj Abdul Rahman in an interview with the media at the Kuala Lurah immigration control post on Feb 1, 2020. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/ The Scoop

“I think members of the public are worried because they think that the flu injection can prevent the (corona)virus. It doesn’t.

“Coronavirus is a new strain of virus and there is no vaccine and specific treatment as of now. The existing flu vaccine that we have can protect against four viruses including H1N1. This is the reason why it is best to practise precautionary measures in order to prevent infection,” she added.

The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday following an increase in number of confirmed cases in China and other countries.

The death toll from the coronavirus rose to 259 in China on Saturday, while the total number of confirmed cases stands at 11,791.

The health ministry advised the public to frequently wash their hands with water and soap, or use hand sanitiser and cover one’s mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief when coughing or sneezing, as well as avoid close contact with those who have flu.

Those who show signs of influenza infection are advised to stay at home and avoid going to crowded places. If there is a need to go to a public place, they are advised to wear face masks to prevent spreading the infection.

The ministry said members of the public must contact their doctor immediately if symptoms worsen.