BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s COVID-19 tally has risen to 157 after the health ministry  confirmed five new imported cases from India on Wednesday.

Four of the new cases travelled on a Royal Brunei Airlines charter flight BI4112 from the south Indian city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu on December 18.

The ministry said a married couple aged 61 and 63 developed fever, while two cases — a 27-year-old woman and 33-year-old woman — did not show any signs of infection.

The other patient, a 29-year-old man, arrived via Royal Brunei Airlines flight BI874 from Kuala Lumpur on December 18. He was reported to be experiencing diarrhea for two days but is no longer showing coronavirus symptoms.

The latest cases brought the total number of imported infections to 16 since Brunei last recorded a domestic COVID-19 transmission 238 days ago.

During a press briefing, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said 19 close contacts of the five patients have tested negative for the coronavirus thus far.

All five cases were isolated upon their arrival in Brunei and brought to the National Isolation Centre for treatment when their COVID-19 test returned positive.

India has the second-highest caseload in the world after the US, with more than 10 million confirmed cases so far, although new cases have been declining since September.

Brunei suspends departure of students to the UK

The minister further warned Bruneians against complacency as COVID-19 cases continued to spike across the world, including the United Kingdom with a record number of daily infections.

Global coronavirus cases have topped 82 million and 1.79 million people have died since COVID-19 emerged in China late last year.

The government last week delayed the return of Brunei students to UK universities as a more contagious COVID-19 strain posed a new public health threat.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday that exit approvals for UK-bound students will be put on hold until at least January 31.

However, students who are not offered online learning options or required to sit for examinations can appeal to the Ministry of Education for consideration to return to UK.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said high-risk individuals including pregnant women, kidney patients and the elderly with chronic diseases are recommended to wear face masks at crowded shopping malls and other public premises.