BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah on Saturday called on Bruneians to unite and be prepared for the long journey ahead in combating the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a titah to address the COVID-19 situation, he said Brunei cannot afford to be complacent as the pandemic is expected to be a long-term threat, judging from developments around the world.

The monarch said everyone has the responsibility to prevent the spread of COVID-19, by avoiding mass gatherings, wearing face masks when one is sick to enforcing travel restrictions and reciting prayers.

“Nobody can run away from this responsibility. There should not be anyone who takes a stand that goes against ethics and religion, such as refusing to get tested and receive treatment,” he said.

The monarch was referring to people who refused tests and treatment because they believe in tawakal, or put their trust in God’s plan.

“To my knowledge, tawakal is one’s endeavour or effort, rather than mere recklessness,” he said.

Brunei has recorded 83 COVID-19 cases since the first case was detected on March 9. More than 260,000 people in 180 countries have been infected with the coronavirus, which has killed about 11,000 people.

His Majesty also called on the public to stay calm as there have been reports of people stockpiling basic commodities such as rice and sugar, which led to a drastic decrease of supply in shops.

“I realise that we are fearful but we should not panic, because panic poses a threat to peace,” he added.

The Ministry of Finance and Economy has reassured that the stock for rice and sugar is sufficient to meet daily demand, and the schedule for supermarkets to order these supplies has been extended to Friday, Sunday and public holidays.

The sultan said his government will not hesitate to take legal action against businesses that take advantage of the COVID-19 situation to hike the prices of goods.

Other measures taken to deal with the outbreak include increasing the capacity of human resources as well as building a new testing lab, which is expected to be completed in two weeks.

The monarch said the new virology laboratory on Jalan Sumbiling is expected to increase Brunei’s testing capacity tenfold.

He went on to say that prioritising hygiene, wearing face masks and using hand sanitisers are not enough to deal with the coronavirus.

Psychological aspects must also be looked into, such as being patient and calm in such trying times as well as to believe and be confident in Allah’s help, he said.

As a nation of believers, we are also required to engage in spiritual endeavours by promoting prayer and zikir (devotional acts) to Allah, he said.

“This is where our culture is different, we know this pandemic does not exist by itself but comes from our creator. Nobody among us knows why it came,” he said.

He called on the Ministry of Religious Affairs to provide Muslims in the country with prayer and zikir texts that are easy for people to recite.

The sultan also paid tribute to healthcare workers, the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, Royal Brunei Police Force and volunteers who helped in the fight against COVID-19.