MoH records one new case, total now at 138

9.08pm | April 19, 2020

Brunei reported one new coronavirus infection on Sunday, a 50-year-old woman who is asymptomatic and linked to the Tabligh cluster.

Health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said she was first tested for COVID-19 on March 13 after her employer (Patient 33) tested positive for the virus. However, this initial test came up negative.

The woman — who has no travel history — was quarantined for 14 days and still showed no symptoms.

However, a slew of recent relapse cases prompted the ministry to retest those who have been discharged from the National Isolation Centre, as well as their close contacts.

Before being discharged from NIC, patients must produce two negative swab results at least 24 hours apart. Out of the 115 people who recovered and were discharged, 18 have been readmitted to NIC following positive test results several days after their release.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said the latest infection is still under investigation and the Ministry of Health is conducting the contact tracing.

He added that the patient is “mildly positive” because the viral load recorded is very low.

“We are almost certain that it is not infectious but we can’t be 100 percent sure. Thats why we need further investigation, especially contact tracing,” he said.

“Hopefully we can learn more from other countries in the region and beyond, to see how they deal with this kinds of cases.”

The minister said they have already started giving tracking bracelets to discharged patients and those undergoing quarantine at  government centres. As a precautionary measure, discharged patients still have to complete a further 14 days of self-isolation at home.

“If the bracelet is taken off or tampered with, it will alert the police, because this is under police monitoring. I even tried it today, as if I was quarantined in my office. Even just going downstairs, you will register [as out of range], and the police will detect this and call you.”

Brunei’s COVID-19 tally now stands at 138 cases.

Full statement from MoH:

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Over 2,100 small business owners to get $300 for three months

9.23pm | April 18, 2020

Religious Affairs minister YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin (R) hands over the mock cheque to Home Affairs minister YB Pehin Dato Hj Abu Bakar. Photo: Courtesy of Ministry of Religious Affairs

Market vendors and small business owners will be among the 2,154 recipients to get paid $300 for three months starting from April, as part of the government’s measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19.

The financial aid is also extended to taxi drivers and tour guides whose source of income has been affected since a travel ban was imposed on March 24.

The Brunei Islamic Religious Council Secretariat said the $1.93 million payout will be distributed among welfare recipients identified by the council’s task force.

Full story here.

MoH reports one new COVID-19 case, five recovered patients test positive again

6.49pm | April 18, 2020

The health ministry on Saturday recorded one new coronavirus case in eight days, raising the cumulative tally to 137.

During his daily press briefing, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said the latest case is a 31-year-old woman linked to a confirmed carrier of the virus.

The asymptomatic woman initially tested negative for COVID-19 while in quarantine and the virus was only detected when one of her recovered close contacts tested positive again 11 days after being discharged.

“Perhaps we did the swab test on her too early, she probably had the virus all along but was not showing any symptoms,” the minister said.

He added that the woman went out of her house twice after her 14-day quarantine and the ministry has identified the locations she visited with contact tracing under way.

“Today’s new case proves that our country is still under the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak and that we need to remain vigilant and not to be complacent,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said.

He further said the 28-day countdown to ease some COVID-19 restrictions will be reset following the first case of local transmission in two weeks.

The minister previously said Brunei may lift certain restrictions after 28 days of reporting zero new local coronavirus infections and depending on the COVID-19 situation outside of the country.

A further five recovered patients have retested positive during their follow-up test, taking the total number of relapse cases to 16.

Four of the relapse cases have been allowed to return home while 12 are undergoing further tests.

Questioned on the reliability of Brunei’s test kits following the increase in number of relapse cases, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the ministry uses the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing method, which has a high sensitivity in detecting the coronavirus.

Compared to the taking of blood samples for antibody tests that produce faster results, the swab test for the RT-PCR is believed to be more accurate in diagnosing COVID-19.

“It’s nothing to do with [the reliability] of the tests, it’s because we don’t fully understand how the virus behaves,” the minister said.

A total of 113 patients have recovered from the coronavirus after one case was discharged overnight.

Twenty-three patients are still being treated at the National Isolation Centre, including two critically ill patients with underlying health conditions.

Full statement from MoH:

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Recovery rate rises to 82% as zero new COVID-19 cases reported for seventh straight day

6.13pm | April 17, 2020

Over 82 percent of Brunei’s coronavirus patients have made full recoveries while the country continued to record zero new coronavirus cases for the seventh consecutive day.

The total number of COVID-19 recoveries has jumped to 112 after another four patients were discharged in the past 24 hours, the health minister said on Friday.

Giving his daily COVID-19 updates, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said the number of active cases has dropped to 23 and two critically ill patients are still kept on life support.

Another two relapse cases have been allowed to return home after testing negative for the virus three times.

Seven relapse cases are still under observation at the National Isolation Centre (NIC).

Brunei’s cumulative tally of confirmed infections stays at 136 with one death reported on March 28.

A total of 11,089 lab tests have been conducted since January, which means one in 41 Brunei residents has taken the swab test for coronavirus.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham further clarified that expats and their family members are still allowed to enter Brunei but are required to pay the $1,000 coronavirus testing fee for each person.

The minister was responding to a reporter’s question on public confusion on whether foreign nationals can enter Brunei as the sultanate implemented travel restrictions on March 24.

The Ministry of Home Affairs last month announced that foreigners are prohibited from entering Brunei as part of measures to prevent imported COVID-19 cases.

However, transport companies delivering food and medical supplies are exempted from the travel ban.

Full statement from MoH:

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Slow internet speeds blamed on faulty undersea cables

10.28pm | April 16, 2020

Undersea cable outages have caused slow internet speeds in Brunei but normal services are expected to resume since the cables have been repaired, the second finance and economy minister said.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said there were issues with three out of five submarine cables outside of Brunei’s territory, thereby affecting internet connectivity.

“In fact, this is the first time we faced [internet traffic] congestion for many, many months,” he said in response to a reporter’s question on the recent slow internet connection.

Acknowledging that demand for internet services has surged as people are spending more time at home due to COVID-19, the minister said network infrastructure provider Unified National Networks (UNN) will improve Brunei’s internet connectivity and speed.

About 200 to 300 sites have 4G+ mobile services and UNN is expected to upgrade the 3G base stations.

The minister also called on the public to be patient if they are waiting for the installation of fixed broadband services as UNN received about 2,400 requests in the first two weeks of April.

UNN has managed to fulfil around 700 applications for fixed broadband service installation, with 60 completed in a day.

New virtual marketplace for food vendors to be launched tomorrow

9.19pm | April 16, 2020

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the food and beverage industry will be able to sell their products on a new virtual marketplace to help offset their losses due to COVID-19.

The online marketplace, named Community for Brunei, will provide an opportunity for food vendors to conduct their business online and the public can make digital payments using debit or credit cards to purchase food.

Announcing the initiative in a press conference, second finance and economy minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said there are two projects under the Community for Brunei platform – Community for COVID and Community for Ramadan.

The Community for COVID project, which starts tomorrow, will enable the public to donate food and other essential items as and when needed by frontline healthcare workers.

“This platform is hoped to provide a way to identify demand and supply and avoid wastage at the same time,” the minister said.

He said delivery companies and ‘runners’ are expected to grow their business and the website will better coordinate food donations to frontline health workers.

Through the Community for Ramadan project, it is hoped that the public can still atmosphere of Gerai Ramadan even though the open air market is cancelled this year.

The Community for Ramadan project will launch on the first day of the holy month.

BIBD, one of the parties involved in the initiative, is expected to provide more guidelines on the virtual marketplace for MSMEs tomorrow.

Food vendors who wish to sell their products on the Community for Brunei website can submit applications to the online system of Registry of Companies and Business Names (ROCBN) by filling in their details and selecting ‘Food & Beverages Services Activities’.

Registration fees will be waived for the first 300 business registration applicants until April 30.

For business registration procedures, the public can contact ROCBN at 2380505/2383444 or email

Relief fund surpasses $6 million

9pm | April 16, 2020

As of April 16, the COVID-19 Relief Fund has received $6.2 million in public donations.

Speaking at the daily COVID-19 press briefing, Second Minister of Finance and Economy Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said around $4 million has gone towards purchasing medical supplies.

He added that the $15 million budget allocation for natural disaster and disease outbreak under the FY 2020/21 budget had already been used up in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Although we have spent a lot of money, we want to assure that this is also money spent for our future – infrastructure and facilities which can be used in the future. It’s not going to waste,” the minister said.

The government has invested heavily in healthcare since the outbreak began in March, building a new virology lab, an $11 million building for the National Isolation Centre, and an artificial intelligence system to forecast infection trends and create medical resource mapping.

His Majesty the Sultan also announced a special $400 monthly allowance for frontliners during the COVID-19 crisis.

When asked how will the government will pay for the monthly allowance of thousands of frontliners, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said it will seek an additional allocation to cover costs not accounted for in the annual budget.

Foreign travellers to bear cost of COVID-19 testing, gov’t restricts mass prayers during Ramadan

7.33pm | April 16, 2020

The government will no longer bear the cost of coronavirus testing for all incoming foreign passengers starting from April 16, the health minister said in a press briefing on Thursday.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said each foreign traveller will pay $1,000  for the COVID-19 test on top of their expenses of undergoing their mandatory isolation at hotels or other designated monitoring centres.

Explaining the decision for foreigners arriving in Brunei to cover the cost of testing, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said “healthcare is not free, it is expensive” and that the government will still foot the bill for medical treatment of infected patients.

Brunei’s COVID-19 tally stayed at 136 after recording zero new COVID-19 cases for the sixth consecutive day on Thursday.

Another relapse case has been been released from the National Isolation Centre (NIC), while nine relapse cases are still taking further tests at the centre.

Some 27 people are still receiving treatment at the NIC, including two critically ill patients.

The minister further said mass tahlil and tarawih prayers will not be allowed during the upcoming month of Ramadan as part of precautionary measures to halt the spread of COVID-19.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said while prayers are a major part of observing Ramadan, it is still not advisable to conduct mass gatherings even though the COVID-19 outbreak is under control in Brunei.

He added that for cemetery visits, only one to two people will be allowed to visit graves at a time.

Full statement from MoH:

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Gov’t to introduce tracking bracelets for discharged patients

9.41pm | April 15, 2020

An inbound traveler in Hong Kong wears an electronic bracelet after authorities began ordering all arrivals from overseas to wear the devices, which are connected to an app to mark your location during the two-week self-quarantine. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP

The Ministry of Health (MoH) plans to introduce tracking bracelets for discharged COVID-19 patients and those under quarantine, the health minister said on Wednesday.

The devices will allow MoH to monitor patients’ movements to see whether they are in breach quarantine or self-isolation conditions.

“We cannot monitor them in their homes 24 hours a day… In the near future we will give them a device similar to a bracelet to be worn especially by those quarantine,” YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said during his daily COVID-19 briefing.

“Once the system is ready, we will know whether they leave the house and we can fine them under the Infectious Disease Act.”

COVID-19 patients released from the National Isolation Centre (NIC) are still required to complete another 14 days of self-isolation at home, in light of a number of patients who retested positive after discharge.

Similarly, anyone issued a quarantine order of self-isolation notice — such as close contacts of COVID-19 patients or travellers entering Brunei — must also undergo mandatory isolation.

Those found in violation of the law can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $10,000.

The health ministry reported no new coronavirus cases for the fifth straight day while one relapse case has been discharged from the NIC.

The minister said the relapse case was allowed to return home after a follow-up test returned negative results for COVID-19, but the patient will continue to isolate at home for 14 days.

In view of the 11 relapse cases reported over the past two days, the ministry has revised its standard operating procedures – COVID-19 patients will now have to produce three negative tests before they can be given the all clear.

Before being discharged from NIC, two tests will be conducted at least 24 hours apart. The third swab test will be done 11 days after they return home.

COVID-19 patients have to undergo four tests in total, including the initial diagnostic test.

“It is uncomfortable, but we have to be careful because [if the virus is still active] they might infect their family members,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said.

An illustration of the swab test for COVID-19.

He added that health experts believe the 11 relapse cases no longer have an active viral infection since their immediate family members were not infected upon their return home.

Brunei’s COVID-19 tally stands at 136 with one recovery reported on Wednesday. The COVID-19 recovery rate has reached 79 percent in the country.

Some 27 people with coronavirus are still hospitalised, including two who are in critical condition.

Full statement from MoH:

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Three more discharged patients test positive for second time

7.05pm | April 14, 2020

A total of 11 discharged patients have retested positive for COVID-19 after the health ministry confirmed three more relapse cases on Tuesday.

During his daily press briefing, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said the three patients have been readmitted to the National Isolation Centre (NIC) for further investigations.

The ministry identified 57 recovered patients to take the swab test again after they were released from the NIC for over 11 days.

Some 42 recovered patients retested negative while four are still awaiting test results.

The minister said none of the close contacts of relapse cases were infected with the coronavirus so far, but they must still undergo quarantine for 14 days.

The total number of COVID-19 cases maintains at 136 without new infections and recoveries reported in the past 24 hours.

“The latest statistics and COVID-19 situation showed that the control measures have been a success in Brunei,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham.

However, he warned the public to continue adhering to government instructions on practising social distancing and avoiding large crowds.

Twenty-eight patients are still being treated at the NIC, including two critically ill patients.

A total of 10,350 lab tests have been conducted to date. This means that Brunei has tested 2.2 percent of its population of 459,500.

Full statement from MoH:

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HM announces special $400 monthly allowance for healthcare workers

8.43pm | April 13, 2020

HM the Sultan delivering a special titah April 13, 2020. Photo: Infofoto

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah on Monday announced a special $400 monthly allowance for healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing the nation in a special titah broadcast on Radio Televisyen Brunei, the monarch praised frontliners and volunteers who have been working around the clock to contain the outbreak and support the continuation of essential services.

Beginning from March 2020 until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the special allowance will be handed out to doctors, nurses, paramedics, ambulance drivers, volunteers, hospital cleaners, security guards and all staff at the Ministry of Health.

Full story here.

Mosque closure extended for fifth week

7.31pm | April 13, 2020

All mosques, surau and prayer halls will remain closed for a fifth week until April 20 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the religious affairs minister announced on Monday.

YB Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awg Othman said the extension is based on advice from the Ministry of Health.

While mosques and all places of worship remain closed, the minister welcomed initiatives from the Muslim community to take religious activity online, such as conducting Quran classes and  Islamic lectures on social media.

The Christian community in Brunei has also taken their daily services online, with churches using YouTube and Facebook to live-stream Easter services over the weekend.

Another 7 discharged patients test positive for COVID-19 again

6.39pm | April 13, 2020

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

Seven patients have been readmitted to the National Isolation Centre after suffering from a relapse of the COVID-19 infection, the health minister said on Monday.

There are now eight relapse cases following the yesterday’s announcement of the first person in Brunei to relapse from COVID-19.

“Because it is a new virus, we’re not sure how it will evolve, there are a lot of things to learn,” YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said during the daily press briefing.

Without identifying the patients, he said the ages and genders of these eight cases vary, and it was not confined to a particular demographic.

Close contacts of these eight cases will be tested for COVID-19 and placed in quarantine for 14 days.

The minister said medical experts have yet to determine whether discharged patients who test positive again are infectious.

The family of the first relapse case has tested negative for the coronavirus thus far.

The health ministry is consulting with other countries in the region to better understand the profile of the new coronavirus, such as how the virus spreads, how long it can stay in the body and whether a recovered patient can get reinfected.

The World Health Organization is currently investigating cases in Korea where 91 patients tested positive for COVID-19 again despite testing negative when being reviewed for discharge.

Korean authorities believe the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than patients being reinfected, but WHO said more epidemiological data is needed to draw conclusions.

Responding to a reporter’s question about whether Brunei is considering blood plasma therapy as an alternative COVID-19 treatment, the minister said WHO has yet to recognise it as an effective therapy and doctors need to weigh the risks and benefits of the treatment.

“[Recovered patients] normally have the antibodies, so it seems like a good idea to to use their plasma for critically-ill patients. But with this virus, not everyone has [developed protective] antibodies.

He added that health experts are still baffled as to how patients can recover from COVID-19 without developing antibodies, and that there maybe different mechanisms that allow them to recover.

The COVID-19 tally stands at 136 with no new infections reported on Monday.

The Ministry of Health said 107 people have recovered while 28 people are still receiving treatment. The relapsed cases are not recorded in the tally as new infections, but as “recovered cases”.

Two people remain in critical condition, with both requiring mechanical ventilation.

Full statement from MoH:

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MoHA debunks viral message claiming borders are open

9.27pm | April 12, 2020

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) has refuted a viral social media post claiming that there are no entry restrictions put in place at Brunei’s borders.

The message, spread on Whatsapp, showed a video of a man crossing into Brunei on a motorcycle as part of Kembara Borneo Miri/Limbang Part 40. In the clip, he claimed he had no difficulty entering Brunei via the Sungai Tujoh checkpoint.

In a statement issued Sunday, the ministry said the video was shot on March 16, before inbound travel restrictions were enforced on March 24.

The ministry added that it is working with enforcement agencies to take legal action against parties who spread the video and disseminate false information.

Disseminating false and unlawful information is an offence under the Public Order Act. Offenders face a penalty of up to three years in prison as well as a fine of up to $3,000.

MoHA added that foreign nationals — including transit passengers — have been barred from entering Brunei since March 24. Any foreign national seeking to enter Brunei must apply for permission by emailing the Department of Immigration and National Registration.

No new cases reported, but discharged person tests positive for virus again

7.27pm | April 12, 2020

Brunei reported no new coronavirus infections on Sunday, but a patient who had previously been treated and discharged from the National Isolation Centre (NIC) has tested positive for COVID-19 again.

The patient was self-isolating at home when he begun to develop symptoms for a second time and was readmitted to NIC after testing positive for COVID-19, 12 days after his initial release.

In his daily press briefing, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said medical experts are still unclear about what causes the virus to reappear in patients.

“What we want to know is whether there were still traces of the virus leftover [in the patient] or whether this is reactivation of the virus, or reinfection,” he said. “Reinfection is unlikely because he had no exposure to anyone else.”

The patient was tested twice (24 hours apart) before being discharged — both results came up negative.

Since leaving NIC he has not been exposed to people outside the home. However, members of his immediate household will now have to be quarantined for 14 days.

In light of this, the MoH has now changed its standard operating procedure for discharged COVID-19 patients.

Previously, patients discharged from NIC would have to undergo an additional seven days of self-isolation at home, which the ministry has now increased to 14 days.

“We closely monitor those discharged, and after this, we will swab them again after 14 days,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham.

The minister said Brunei will follow best practices from China, Japan and Korea, who have had success with containing/mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

“In the scientific world, we’re still understanding how this virus works. It’s a new virus, we still don’t know how it mutates.”

“Some infected parties will develop antibodies, and others don’t. We’re trying to understand why, but there’s still a lot to learn within the scientific community about how this new virus behaves in the short and long term.”

The health minister added that it is still too early to lift restrictions in Brunei.

“I know people still might be excited when they see ‘zero, zero, zero’,” he said, referring to the days when Brunei reported no new infections. “But as we can see from today, these restrictions must remain as a precautionary measure.”

Since the domestic outbreak began on March 9, Brunei has recorded 136 COVID-19 cases, but 77 percent of patients have recovered, while the rest are still being treated. One death was recorded on March 28.

Two critically-ill patients are currently receiving life support from ECMO machines.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said the patients were put on ECMO to increase the amount of oxygen in their blood. He added that patients can remain on ECMO for weeks in order to give their lungs a chance to heal, but that infections such as pneumonia, a common complication for COVID-19 patients, can hinder recovery.

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