BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will “most likely” make it mandatory for Bruneians to be fully vaccinated before they can travel abroad, the health minister said during a press conference on Thursday.

Asked about the impact of vaccination on Bruneians’ ability to travel, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said passengers may be required to receive the recommended two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Before boarding a flight, travellers will need to wait at least 14 days after they have been administered the second dose.

“It has to be at least 14 days after the second dose that you’ll be reasonably protected [from COVID-19]. It’s not like I have the second dose today and I can travel the next day,” the minister said.

Dr Justin Wong, head of MoH’s Disease Control Division, said a scientific assessment team was set up to study emerging evidence on the effect of vaccines on international travel.

Before a decision can be made to loosen travel restrictions, he said the team will be looking at two major aspects to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19.

“The first is the vaccination status of the individual. Secondly, the vaccine coverage within the population.

“The most important thing is if you want to [travel], get everyone, as many people as possible to get vaccinated. The higher the vaccine coverage, the more likely it is that we can feel safe and comfortable,” he added during the press briefing.

Brunei is aiming to inoculate at least 70 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.

World Health Organization experts have estimated that 65 to 70 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to break COVID-19 transmission chains.

However, a January survey on vaccine acceptance found that only 59 percent of Brunei residents would “definitely or likely take” the jab.

Dr Justin Wong, head of Disease Control Division at the Ministry of Health, during the press briefing. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Quarantine guidelines to remain for the time being

The health ministry is also studying the possibility of reducing the quarantine duration for fully vaccinated travellers.

Dr Wong said the ministry is considering expedited quarantine for certain Brunei-bound passengers, but a number of guidelines will need to be in place.

“There needs to be a way to validate people’s vaccination status, so we need to be able to ensure that what people are presenting as proof of vaccination is indeed proof of vaccination.

“It’s not a straightforward question of ‘I’m vaccinated, can I be exempted [from quarantine]?’ I think these things have to be considered at least for the time being on a case-by-case basis until a decision has been made,” Dr Wong said.

Mandatory isolation for new arrivals currently range from two to 14 days, depending on the risk category of the country of departure.

In the short term, it is likely that travellers will still be required to get tested for COVID-19 before their arrival in Brunei.

Talks ongoing with ASEAN member states on use of vaccine certificates

Speaking on the sidelines of his visit to a vaccination centre at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Indoor Stadium on Thursday, YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said Brunei is holding talks with ASEAN member states on establishing a region-wide vaccine certificate to facilitate travel.

He said Brunei has formed a technical team to review vaccine certification for regional travel.

Last November, Southeast Asian countries agreed to establish a travel corridor that may allow essential travellers to be exempted from undergoing quarantine in the region.

It was also previously reported in March that Brunei had started discussions with Malaysia on the use of vaccine certificates for travellers to show proof of inoculation against COVID-19.

The vaccine certificates are a form of passport that allows people to travel abroad.