BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Positive COVID-19 cases with mild symptoms will now be allowed to isolate at home, with the health ministry reversing its decision to place all coronavirus patients at designated isolation facilities.

The health minister announced on Friday that the new home isolation rule takes effect from October 8 after taking into account Brunei’s COVID-19 situation, World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and other countries’ patient management practices.

The home isolation guidelines apply to COVID-19 patients who are asymptomatic or those with mild symptoms, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said during his daily press briefing.

Last month, the government scrapped home isolation for positive COVID-19 cases after dozens of people were caught leaving their homes during their self-isolation period.

“In the beginning, we felt that we can still monitor the patients closely if they are isolated in the designated facilities,” said the minister.

“But most of our people, Alhamdulillah, they follow the regulations though there are a few who didn’t,” he added.

A patient management team will monitor the positive cases throughout their 14-day home isolation.

Patients are mandated to wear red-coloured identification wristbands to deter them from breaching self-isolation rules, and must be easily contacted during their isolation.

Individuals who fail to comply with home isolation rules may be subject to a fine of up to $5,000 under the Infectious Diseases Act.

The minister said the home isolation policy is introduced after “comprehensive research” was conducted to assess the suitability of this approach in Brunei.

“Findings form scientific studies, guidelines from WHO and similar practices that have been successfully implemented in several countries have given confidence to the government that this policy can be implemented safely, while providing comfort for patients to remain in their homes throughout the isolation period,” he continued.

Positive COVID-19 cases who do not have the space to isolate safely at home would be brought to makeshift isolation facilities.

A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in front of displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken on October 30, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Pfizer vaccines expected to arrive end of October

Brunei is expecting the arrival of its Pfizer vaccines at the end of this month, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said.

The ministry procured 300,000 doses of the Pfizer jab, which will be offered to children and adolescents aged 12 to 17.

Asked about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines on children, the minister said studies have shown that the benefits of taking the jab outweigh the risks.

Apart from common side effects such as pain at the injection site and fever, mRNA vaccines can cause the rare side effect of heart inflammation among younger people.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said there is a low risk of developing vaccine-induced inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) and inflammation of the tissue that forms a sac around the heart (pericarditis).

Studies found that the chance of developing heart inflammation after a Pfizer or Moderna shot is about one in 100,000, he said.

He added that those who were diagnosed with myocarditis or pericarditis can still recover from the condition.

The health ministry is working with the education ministry to administer the Pfizer vaccines to students before schools are allowed to reopen.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said there were plans to vaccinate students at schools but the current vaccination sites may be used instead as the inoculation of adults starts to wind down.

Over 71 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday, earlier than the health ministry anticipated.

“We understand that thousands of people are scheduled to get inoculated but there are still thousands who do not want to be vaccinated,” the minister said.

He added that praying without effort or action is not enough to rein in the spread of COVID-19.

It was previously reported that more than 5,000 seniors aged 60 and above have yet to take their jabs despite being at an increased risk of dying from the coronavirus.

Brunei aims to get at least 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated by the end of 2021 before lifting COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for two months.

To date, 46 percent of Brunei residents have completed their two-dose vaccination regimen.

New cases jump to 202

The health ministry detected 202 new coronavirus cases on Friday, an 80 percent jump from the previous day.

New infections had stayed below 200 for five straight days before the rise in numbers today.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham attributed the increase in infections to close contacts of confirmed cases testing positive for COVID-19.

He said most of the current cases were spread through staff housing and high-density residential areas.

Eight of the new clusters identified on Friday were household clusters, including the staff quarters of Hasmit Shield Roofing Manufacture and Tauhid Jaya.

There are now 2,225 active cases, while the overall COVID-19 tally stands at 8,464.

Among the active cases, 39 people are being treated in the intensive care unit.

Meanwhile, 30 people were caught breaking the night curfew on Thursday night. Since the COVID-19 night curbs were imposed on October 4, 143 violations have been reported.