BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is facing another bottleneck as the latest scheduling error causes further delays for 1,600 people awaiting appointments.

On the same day that bookings resumed for first dose jabs, the health ministry reported “technical problems” in rearranging appointments at two vaccination sites – Jubli Emas Bunut Health Centre and Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

The Ministry of Health issued a public apology on Thursday and said the rescheduling of vaccination appointments is ongoing for people whose previous slots were cancelled due to the vaccine shortage.

Affected individuals will be given a new vaccine appointment date in due course, the ministry said.

The booking system has been marred by issues this year, including the overbooking of 4,000 vaccine appointments last month as residents rushed to get inoculated amid Brunei’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.

Long way to go before COVID-19 is endemic

During a press briefing, health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said there is a long way before Brunei can treat COVID-19 as an endemic disease, adding that “appropriate” preparations must be made before the community adjusts to a new reality.

He said the government is aiming to inoculate at least 70 percent of the adult population by the end of the year, and offering jabs to children and adolescents will further increase the vaccination coverage to 80 percent.

However, he said hitting the vaccination target does not mean the government would immediately ease COVID-19 curbs.

“We need to make proper guidelines on how we can ease restrictions,” the minister said, adding that the waning efficacy of vaccines would also need to be taken into account.

“The effectiveness of most vaccines will be reduced in eight to nine months. We have to think about [administering] booster shots.”

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

As of Wednesday, 33.7 percent of the population were fully vaccinated after receiving two jabs.

Apart from vaccination rates, the minister said the lifting of restrictions would also depend on the COVID-19 situation in neighbouring countries.

“Smuggling routes are still a concern. That’s our weakest chain, so it’s a long journey,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said.

The minister said the current outbreak is different from the first wave last year as the sultanate is dealing with the more contagious Delta variant.

“Hopefully, the public will cooperate. The more people follow guidelines, the sooner we will reopen.”

109 new cases reported; two clusters closed

The health ministry detected 109 additional COVID-19 cases and identified four new household clusters on Thursday.

Two clusters — Star Lodge hotel and Cluster 635 — have also been closed as no new infections have been linked to the clusters for 28 days. There are now 84 active clusters.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the emergence of new household clusters would hamper efforts in flattening the COVID-19 curve.

“It is indeed worrying. This means that people are still going out.

“That is why we keep emphasising that the public need to stay at home and only go out when necessary. There are people having barbecues and so on. This is not the time.”

The number of active cases declined to 1,502 on Thursday after 156 people were discharged in the last 24 hours.

Among the active cases, 10 are critically ill and 25 people need close monitoring.

Correction: Sept. 17, 2021 

An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed the technical problem to the BruHealth app, but the health ministry has clarified that scheduling errors made by staff were the cause of a delay to reschedule vaccination appointments.