BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government has announced further easing of COVID-19 control measures, raising the limit of people at public and social gatherings from 100 to 200 people at a time.
During a press briefing on Thursday, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said more social distancing measures will be relaxed from August 17 as the coronavirus outbreak has been brought under control in Brunei.
The country has not detected any domestic transmission of COVID-19 for over three months but reported an imported case last Friday, bringing the national tally to 142.
YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said Brunei will reduce the cost of nasal swab testing to $350 for foreign nationals who have been granted permission to enter the country beginning August 14.
The government previously imposed a $1,000 fee on inbound foreigners for the COVID-19 test.
On top of paying for the test, foreign arrivals will be required to bear accommodation expenses as part of the two-week mandatory isolation at designated health monitoring centres.
The health ministry has administered 45,835 tests to date, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the population.
Brunei has been gradually loosening coronavirus curbs since May 16 when the first phase of its de-escalation plan kicked in.
Buffets can return at eateries; children allowed to enter cinemas
The home affairs minister said buffets will be permitted at all eateries from August 17 but diners cannot serve themselves.
Only restaurant employees who wear protective face masks can serve food to the patrons, said YB Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Abu Bakar Hj Apong, one of four cabinet ministers who attended the press briefing.
There is no capacity limit for dine-in at restaurants, cafés and food courts since the fourth phase of de-escalation plan took effect.
Cinemas will proceed to the third stage of reopening on August 17, operating at 80 percent of its full capacity compared to 60 percent in the second phase.
Cinemagoers must be kept one seat apart but family members can sit together. The age limit has also been lifted at cinemas.
In the second phase of easing coronavirus restrictions, indoor and outdoor playgrounds as well as game arcades can operate at 60 percent of their normal capacity.
Special needs, childcare facilities to resume full operations
Special needs centres and childcare facilities will be able to resume full operations next Monday as part of the fourth phase of de-escalation plan, said the minister of culture, youth and sports.
YB Major General (R) Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Hj Abidin said children of all ages can return to childcare centres, except those who display flu symptoms such as fever or are at high risk of developing a severe infection.
Special needs centres are also open to all, excluding those with chronic diseases.
Museums, exhibition galleries and public libraries will also move to the final stage of reopening, hosting a maximum number of 100 people at a time as opposed to the previous 70 people.
For senior citizen centres, attendance is capped at 80 percent at a specific time – an increase from 60 percent.
Under the third phase of de-escalation plan, swimming pools are allowed to operate every day with no age restrictions and can accommodate 80 percent of its total capacity.
Visitors of swimming pools can use the facilities up to two hours a day.
The ministry has also increased the number of people allowed to train for team sports from 10 to 15 people.
Organised sports or competitive matches are still banned.
YB Major General (R) Dato Hj Aminuddin said 289,096 people have visited sports facilities since the start of reopening in May, including gyms, golf courses, bowling centres and swimming pools.
Public transport to run at full capacity; practical driving tests restart soon
Starting August 17, buses and water taxis can run at full capacity.
Transport and infocommunications minister YB Dato Seri Setia Abd Mutalib Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Setia Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Yusof said bus drivers should not accept passengers if the bus has exceeded its maximum seating capacity.
Passengers must wear face masks on buses and scan the BruHealth QR code before boarding. Only passengers with green and yellow BruHealth codes can get on the bus.
Transport operators are required to ensure cleanliness at all times, including disinfecting seats and providing life jackets for water taxi passengers.
The minister further said more practical driving test examiners will be appointed and the Training and Driving Test Circuit Complex in Kg Sungai Akar will speed up practical driving tests to address the backlog of students who are on the waiting list.
The practical driving tests will return to a normal schedule at the end of August to early September, he added.
Driving schools have been allowed to hold classes at their normal capacity since July 27.
The reopening of internet cafes remain in the third level of de-escalation plan but the ministry has revised its safety guidelines, including limiting the number of visitors to 90 percent of total capacity and ensuring physical distancing of at least a metre apart.
Internet café patrons must wear face coverings and only those with green or yellow BruHealth codes can enter the premises.