BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Foreign nationals will be allowed to enter Brunei for essential travel from September 15, a move signalling the start of easing stringent COVID-19 travel restrictions that have been in place for more than five months.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, second minister of finance and economy, announced in a press conference on Thursday that Brunei is entering the first phase of removing restrictions on entry and exit into the sultanate.

The new travel guidelines apply to foreign nationals who are on essential business and official travel, seeking medical treatment or studying in Brunei, as well as compassionate circumstances where they have immediate family members who are Brunei citizens or residents.

Brunei has shut its borders to foreigners since March 24, suspending the issuance of visitor, student and dependent visas.

Explaining the decision to relax the COVID-19 travel curbs, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said Brunei cannot continue to enforce strict border control because it will affect businesses and individuals.

“As our COVID-19 situation has somewhat improved, we need to think about how to get back to normal.

“We will have the restrictions as long as we still need them but business activity needs to resume and people need to carry out essential travel,” he added.

Brunei residents are still banned from leaving the country unless they have been given the green light to travel abroad for urgent matters.

Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Dr Hj Md Amin. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Foreign visitors need guarantor to apply for entry pass

Under the new travel application procedures, foreign visitors must find a host company or guarantor who can apply for an entry travel pass on their behalf.

Once the application has been granted, the guarantor is required to pay the $350 coronavirus swab test or RT-PCR, which will be administered on the foreign arrival.

Inbound foreign passengers must produce a certificate showing a negative result of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before their departure.

The guarantor needs to book the visitor’s accommodation, which has been designated by the government as a health monitoring centre.

Applications will be assessed based on the type of travel and three risk categories of the country of disembarkation.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Amin said the risk categories of countries – low, moderate and high – will not be published as the COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving.

A bus driver waits at Brunei International Airport to transport inbound passengers to designated isolation centres on March 21, 2020. Photo: Fazizul Haqimie/The Scoop

Isolation period reduced for travellers from low-risk countries

The 14-day isolation is no longer mandatory for all new arrivals, including Bruneians.

The number of days spent in isolation will instead range from two to 14 days, depending on the risk level of the country of departure.

“If they are travelling from a low-risk country, they can leave the hotel if they produce a negative result in the second [swab] test after one to two days.

“Those at moderate or high risk will need to stay a bit longer at hotels depending on the swab test, some may be five days after their arrival,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Md Amin.

He added that the isolation of new arrivals is needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Brunei has gone 119 days without any new locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus, but reported one new imported infection on Thursday.

Local passengers who did not take a pre-departure COVID-19 test must be tested for the coronavirus five days after returning to the country. They are also required to isolate for 7-14 days at select hotels.

Brunei citizens and residents who are returning from non-essential visits need to pay for their accommodation, meals and transport from the airport to hotel.

The government will cover the hotel and meal expenses of those returning from essential trips.

Local travellers are also advised to complete the arrival declaration form to facilitate transport arrangements.

‘No rush to establish green lanes with other countries’

The move to loosen travel restrictions comes two days after Brunei agreed to establish a “reciprocal green lane” with Singapore to facilitate essential travel.

When asked whether Brunei is looking to implement similar travel plans with other countries, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said the government will assess the effectiveness of the green lane scheme with Singapore before accepting other proposals.

It was previously reported that China and Malaysia had expressed their interest to set up “green lanes” with Brunei for less restricted travel.

The minister said the travel proposals are still subject to negotiation to ensure the conditions of all parties are met.

“We are trying out with Singapore at the moment. We’ll see whether it’s working before we try to have similar arrangements with other countries.

“Situations can always change in other countries, so we need to make sure we don’t rush into it too quickly,” he added.

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