BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will loosen the limit on public and social gatherings from 50 to 100 people as Brunei enters the fourth and final phase of its de-escalation plan on July 27 following no reports of new COVID-19 cases for over two months.
The revised mass gathering guidelines apply to workplace events, weddings, religious activities, family get-togethers and charity events.
In a press conference attended by seven cabinet ministers on Wednesday, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar announced the further easing of coronavirus restrictions but warned that the pandemic is not over.
He said the public should stay vigilant and practise social distancing as part of the “new normal”.
“Further easing of restrictions does not mean we should lower our guard. It is even more important to remain cautious now that there will be larger crowds as a result of the de-escalation,” he added.
Members of the public are still required to comply with physical distancing guidelines even when businesses and public services return to full operations.
The fourth stage of reopening comes nearly 10 weeks after the first phase of the government’s de-escalation plan took effect on May 16.
Indoor playgrounds reopen; easing of restrictions on expos and cinemas
The government has given the green light for expos and bazaars to be held with limitations.
Organisers must seek permission from the home affairs ministry to hold expos or trade fairs through the OneBiz portal.
Home affairs minister YB Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Abu Bakar Hj Apong said expos can only take place at commercial buildings and booths are required to be separated at a distance of three metres.
It is also compulsory for expo workers to wear face coverings.
In the first level of the de-escalation plan, indoor and outdoor playgrounds as well as game arcades will be allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity from July 27.
The indoor playgrounds and arcades must set a time limit of one hour per person.
Cinemas will move to the second stage of reopening on July 27, operating at 60 percent of its total capacity compared to 30 percent in the first phase.
Family members can sit together at cinemas but other cinemagoers must maintain a distance of at least two seats apart.
Only those who are aged 12 and above can watch films at cinemas. Cinemagoers must reserve their seats and purchase their tickets online or by phone.
Eating and drinking will be permitted at cinemas.
Under Phase 4 of reopening, restaurants, cafés and food courts will be able to operate at full capacity from July 27, but buffets are still banned.
Pasarneka and Tamu Tutong Complex can welcome back all its vendors on July 30.
All students return to in-school learning
All schools, including tertiary education institutions, can resume the “normal academic term” in the final phase of reopening from July 27, the education minister said.
YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman said assemblies, sports and extracurricular activities are still prohibited at schools until further notice.
The minister further said schools have modified their curriculum, where teachers will be given more time to teach than conduct exams or assessments.
Universities and the Institute of Technical Education (IBTE) will be given flexibility in determining learning methods for students, including through online platforms.
Study abroad programmes at higher learning institutions will not resume as Brunei has yet to lift its travel ban.
For students who wish to further their studies overseas or return to their university abroad, they are required to follow the education ministry’s guidelines and fill in two declaration forms. Further details can be obtained from the Scholarship Division by calling 2380019.
All school hostels will also reopen and tuition centres can resume full operations.
Mosques to operate at full capacity
Friday prayer congregants will no longer need to reserve a spot at mosques as places or worship can now host worshippers at its maximum capacity from August 3, said the religious affairs minister.
YB Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awg Othman said it is still compulsory to wear protective face masks during Friday prayers at mosques and other religious halls.
Moving to the fourth phase of mosque reopening, Muslims must still register their health status through the BruHealth contact tracing app.
Children aged 12 and above will be permitted to perform Friday prayers at mosques. Previously, only those aged 15 and above were allowed.
The government has also granted permission for religious activities such as Surah Yaasin recital to be held with up to 100 attendees and limited to only two hours.
Al-Quran and Muqaddam classes every Friday are now allowed, but they must adhere to the guidelines set by the Mosque Affairs Department.
No capacity limit at driving classes
The Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications (MTIC) will implement the fourth phase of de-escalation plan for driving schools nationwide on July 27.
MTIC minister YB Dato Seri Setia Abd Mutalib Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Setia Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yusof said driving schools are allowed to hold classes at their normal capacity but must comply with the ministry’s guidelines on conducting the highway code and practical driving tests.
The classroom must be cleaned after every class while vehicles need to be disinfected after every use. Driving school operators must also air out the vehicle for 15 minutes to ensure proper air circulation.
As part of the third level of reopening, Internet cafes will be allowed to operate at 90 percent of their capacity.
YB Dato Mutalib urged the public to continue using online services, especially for vehicle and driving license renewal.
He said the ministry’s TransportBN app has been downloaded 26,710 times, but the rate of usage is still low considering there are 243,844 active driving license holders in the country.
From March to June this year, a total of 16,085 people have renewed their driving and vehicle licenses online compared to only 3,440 people in the same period last year.
Starting July 1, members of the public can renew driving and vehicle licenses that have expired for a month on the app, which enables the payment of late penalty charges.
Push SMS notifications will be sent in stages to encourage the public to continue using the app which can be downloaded via Google Play for Android users and the App Store for iOS users.
Full reopening of gyms, sports facilities
Gyms and sports facilities will resume full operations in the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports’ fourth stage of reopening next Monday.
YB Major General (R) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin said gyms, fitness centers, golf clubs as well as indoor and outdoor sports facilities will be allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity from the previous 90 percent.
Doubles or non-contact artistic sports can proceed and training for team sports is permitted for up to 10 people.
“Exchange or mixing of players is allowed. Activities that involve minimum physical contact and equipment sharing are allowed. Contact sports are allowed for training sessions only and must not involve sparring,” he added.
For bowling centres, each alley can now accommodate four users with no time constraints.
However, organised sports and competitions or matches are still banned.
The ministry will also move to the third phase of the de-escalation plan for childcare centres, special needs centres, museums, exhibition galleries and public libraries.
Starting July 27, childcare centres can operate at 80 percent of their capacity compared to the previous 60 percent. Toddlers who are aged six months and above can return to childcare centres.
Attendance at special needs centres is capped at 80 percent but high risk groups will be barred from entering.
The minister said museums and exhibition galleries will be authorised to operate every day, except Mondays, Fridays and public holidays while public libraries will open on normal working days.
Museums, public exhibition galleries and libraries can host a maximum of 70 people at a time depending on the spatial size.
The second phase of de-escalation plan for senior citizen centres will allow the centres to increase its capacity from 30 to 60 percent.
The centres are only open to senior citizens who are at low and medium risks, or whose chronic diseases are controlled.
Swimming pools will also increase its capacity to 60 percent, with those aged 12 and above permitted to use the facilities.
COVID-19 Relief Fund closes for donations on Aug 1
Public donations to the COVID-19 Relief Fund have amounted to $14.59 million, four months after it was set up.
Second finance and economy minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said $12.95 million have been allocated for the National Isolation Centre’s new wing, purchase of medical equipment for the centre and smart helmets that can detect fever.
The remaining funds will be spent on additional medical supplies when the need arises, he added.
The minister said the fund will close on August 1 as fewer people are making donations and zero new coronavirus cases have been recorded for over two months.