BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will relax more COVID-19 control measures when it enters the fifth or “new normal” phase of its de-escalation plan on March 8, the government announced on Saturday.

In a press briefing, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said 1,000 people will be able to gather at a time from Monday onwards.

The previous social gathering limit was set at 350 people last August.

He said the government decided to further ease social distancing measures as the coronavirus outbreak has been brought under control with no community transmission for over 300 days.

Phase 5 will take effect nearly 10 months after the government first started lifting COVID-19 curbs.

The fifth stage of reopening will apply to all places of worship, schools and higher education institutions, tuition and music schools, driving schools, special needs classes, childcare centres, activity centres for the elderly, museums, galleries and libraries, gyms, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, eateries, cinemas, playgrounds and arcades, internet cafes, hawker stalls and markets.

Travel restrictions are still maintained to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the country.

The public are required to continue using the BruHealth app at all public premises. Photo: Yusri Adanan/The Scoop

Social distancing guidelines revised

Under the “new normal” phase, the public are still required to scan BruHealth QR codes at all public premises, practise good hygiene, observe physical distancing and wear face masks in crowded areas.

Physical contact such as handshakes are not recommended and anyone feeling unwell should isolate themselves and visit a doctor.

The public are also advised to get inoculated once the COVID-19 vaccination drive starts at an undisclosed time.

All Brunei residents aged 18 and above can get the vaccine for free, with high-risk groups to take the jab in the first phase of vaccine rollout.

MCYS lifts ban on organised sports

The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports said competitive sport will be permitted but the number of spectators is limited to 500 people or 75 percent of the sports venue’s maximum capacity.

In its “new normal” social distancing protocols released on Tuesday, the ministry said all sporting events can proceed, including contact sport.

The government had banned organised sports after Brunei detected its first coronavirus case a year ago.

Indoor sports facilities can also operate at full capacity but must ensure cleanliness and good ventilation.

Members of the public are required to make reservations before using the indoor sports facilities.

They are also encouraged to bring their own sports equipment and disinfect their gear after use.

Times Cineplex staff disinfect cinema seats after a movie. Photo: Yusri Adanan/The Scoop

Cinemas can return to full capacity

In its revised guidelines, the home affairs ministry said cinemas can now operate at full capacity.

Cinemas were only allowed to operate at 80 per cent of its maximum capacity in the previous stage of reopening. The age limit was also lifted at cinemas.

The ministry further said food handlers are still encouraged to wear face coverings at eateries.

Restaurants, cafés and food courts were already permitted to host patrons at normal capacity since July 27.

Expos, bazaars and open-air markets must ensure that the number of people does not exceed the mass gathering limit of 1,000 people.

Students play football game as part of Universal Children’s Day activities. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Schools to resume co-curricular activities

Public and private schools will be allowed to hold assemblies, sports and co-curricular activities in the “new normal” phase, the education ministry said in a statement.

The new guidelines require schools to ensure proper ventilation in classrooms and other enclosed spaces, but students no longer need to sit far apart from one another.

Schools had gradually resumed in-person learning last June after classes were suspended for over two months.

For higher education institutions, co-curricular activities will also be permitted but students must fill in a risk assessment form and comply with other health ministry guidelines.

Internships and local field trips are also allowed, with host agencies required to complete a declaration form.

However, study abroad programmes remain suspended.

All children allowed to perform Friday prayers at mosques

The Ministry of Religious Affairs has scrapped the age limit to perform Friday prayers at mosques and other places of worship in the “new normal” phase.

In the fourth stage of the de-escalation plan, only children aged 12 and above were granted permission to perform Friday prayers at mosques.

In addition, Friday prayer congregants will no longer be required, but encouraged to wear protective face masks.

One new imported case from Indonesia

Brunei reported a new imported coronavirus case on Saturday, involving a 43-year-old man who arrived from Jakarta on February 21.

A total of 189 COVID-19 cases have been recorded, including 48 import cases since the last local transmission on May 6.

Four active cases are currently being treated at the National Isolation Centre.

This story was updated at 9.35am on March 10 to include the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports’ new social distancing guidelines.