BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government reinstated a slew of COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after the health ministry detected eight new cases of COVID-19, seven of which are community transmission.
MOH said five people at a hotel were likely exposed to COVID-19 from a traveller who was quarantining at the same location.
In unrelated cases, another two people tested positive for the coronavirus after complaining of feeling ill.
The source of infection in these two cases has not been identified, prompting authorities to implement control measures for two weeks, including a 30-person limit to social gatherings, postponing all large events, and closing all places of worship.
All educational institutions must go back to online learning, including after-school tuition, special needs centres and music classes.
The following facilities have also been ordered to close: gyms, fitness centres, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, leisure centers, cinemas, internet cafes, playgrounds, driving schools, museums, libraries, galleries, beauty salons and barber shops.
Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said the two-week period would give the health authorities enough time to study the cases and determine the source of infection.
“We don’t know yet how they got it, so it would give us time to investigate a bit further, especially in terms of contact tracing.”
He added that MoH would “review this situation nearer to the end of two weeks to see where we are.”
During this period, restaurants will not be allowed to host dine-in customers and will be limited to take-aways and delivery services.
Other premises such as retail businesses, supermarkets, food stalls and outdoor markets are allowed to operate as long as physical distancing measures are implemented.
Companies have been urged to implement a work-from-home policy, allowing only essential workers into the office.
Second Minister of Finance and Economy, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, said MOFE would continue to assess the impact of COVID-19 on local business and whether further assistance is needed.
“This time around the [control] measures are not as restrictive as what we experienced back in March, April and May last year.
“Because now, we have vaccinations and the BruHealth contact tracing so we are more prepared,” he said.
MoH urged the public to consistently use the BruHealth app when going in and out of public places, and to activate the Blutooth function in public areas.
It said QR code scans were crucial in assisting the ministry to conduct timely contact tracing in the event of an outbreak.
Face masks now mandatory
With the Delta variant fueling the spread of COVID-19 across the world — with large outbreaks in Brunei’s neighbouring countries — the government has decided to make face masks mandatory in all indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces.
The directive applies to all individuals regardless of vaccination status.
The health minister said the Delta variant has not been detected in any samples they have sent overseas for genetic sequencing.
Background of the three new clusters
After the press conference, the health minister shared with reporters that the eight new cases have been grouped into three clusters.
The five people linked to a hotel quarantine centre have no recent travel history and are believed to have been infected by a recently-arrived traveller who was isolating at the hotel. Three of them had been fully vaccinated already, while the other two are awaiting a second dose.
When asked whether there was a lapse in safety protocols at the hotel, Dato Isham said they were investigating the possibility.
“In this particular hotel, they are quite compliant. But even if you wear PPE, sometimes you touch your face afterwards and you might be infected from there.”
“We do audit them and during the audit there were certain findings, but they are quite good generally.”
The two cases of interest — only identified as two men aged 54 and 34 –– have no recent travel history and started developing mild symptoms a day apart. They are not linked to one another and considered two separate clusters.
The eighth case is an imported infection, a 37-year-old man who arrived in the sultanate from the Middle East on July 30. He had been fully vaccinated but started developing symptoms on August 3.
The health minister said although vaccinated people can still be infected with COVID-19, they are likely to have milder symptoms.
Vaccination is still the most effective measure to prevent the severe effects of an infection, he added.
MoH advised people who have not yet been vaccinated — especially the elderly and those with chronic disease — to reserve a vaccination slot as soon as possible. Walk-ins will only be allowed for the elderly and those with special needs.