BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The total number of COVID-19 cases in Brunei reached 25 on Thursday, with positive test results more than doubling within the span of 24 hours
The Ministry of Health (MoH) announced 14 new cases on Thursday evening, 13 of which are part of the cluster originating from a three-day religious event at Jamek Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.
However, one case is outside the cluster — a 64-year-old man who did not attend the event, but has recent travel history to Kuala Lumpur and Cambodia.
All 25 cases are in stable condition at the National Isolation Centre and do not require breathing assistance or show signs of fever.
Eleven of the people who tested positive are asymptomatic, the health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said
MoH revised their earlier estimate of the number Bruneians attending the mass gathering of Tabligh in KL: 81 Bruneians are known to have participated in the event, which was attended by 10,000 people from several countries.
Seventy of the Bruneian participants have returned home, 66 of whom have been tested for COVID-19, while four have yet to be located.
Of the 66 tested, 16 were positive for COVID-19, 25 were negative, while another 25 people are still awaiting results.
The remaining 11 Bruneians who attended the event are still outside the country, MoH said, urging them to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said contact tracing has begun for the newly-confirmed COVID-19 cases — close contacts such as family members, co-workers, or anyone who has been in the company of an infected person will be contacted by the authorities. MoH will collect samples for COVID-19 testing and a quarantine order will be issued.
The government has also gazetted an amendment to the Infectious Disease Act to increase the penalty for anyone who does not comply with official directives for the coronavirus outbreak.
Under the Act, anyone who, or is suspected to be, a case, carrier or in contact of an infectious disease may be required to undergo medical examination or medical treatment either in hospital or any other place as determined by the Director-General Ministry of Health. Failure to comply to this provision is an offence under this law and the person may be ordered to be transferred to a hospital or another place where he can be detained and, if necessary, isolated until examination or treatment has been undertaken. In addition, those who obstruct or assist in obstructing authorised officers in carrying their duties, or provided false information or misleading information, will also be committing an offence under the law.
The maximum penalty for a first offence is $10,000 or six months in prison, up from $200. For a second or subsequent offence, offenders may be fined up to $20,000 or jailed for up to a year.
“We will enforce the law without hesitation,” the minister said.
Universities suspend classroom learning
Univerisiti Islam Sultan Sharif Ali has suspended all classroom learning in a bid to minimise contact between students, while Universiti Brunei Darussalam said it would move most classes online.
Campus events have been postponed or cancelled, while UNISSA has taken the additional step of asking local students to vacate the hostels.
The practice of ‘social distancing’ is an intervention taken by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease.
The Legislative Council has also closed public viewing of the annual parliamentary session.
Friday prayers to be shortened
During a press conference Thursday, Minister of Religious Affairs said Friday prayers will continue, but that the prayers and sermon will be shortened, and congregants are advised to perform their ablutions at home. Mosques, suraus and prayer halls will also be equipped with hand sanitisers.
“The Friday prayer is fardhu ain (a religious obligation). It must be fulfilled except if there is uzur syarie (a reasonable excuse),” said YB Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Othman.
He added that if a person is sick or presenting symptoms of COVID-19, they are not obligated to perform Friday prayers.
When asked if the procession for Israk Miraj will be cancelled, the minister said they would take a “wait and see approach” and would act on the advice of the Ministry of Health.
This story was updated on March 13, 2020 at 11.32am