BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s COVID-19 vaccination rate may be higher than reported in official records as the country’s total population has declined this year, the second minister of finance and economy said on Saturday.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said the share of people who received two jabs could be around 50 percent, with about 77 percent having taken at least one vaccine dose.

In the health ministry’s latest vaccination figures, 71.6 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose and 46 percent is fully vaccinated.

The minister said the current vaccination rate is based on the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics’ 2020 population estimate of 453,600 people.

The vaccination numbers may be revised upwards as the population and housing census conducted this year showed that Brunei’s population fell to an estimated 420,000, he said during the COVID-19 press briefing.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said fewer foreign residents led to a shrinking population following the government’s COVID-19 travel restrictions that have been in place for more than 18 months.

Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Brunei reported a decrease in foreign workers for the first time last year after a significant number of foreign nationals left the country once their contracts expired.

Moreover, only a limited number of foreigners in certain sectors or jobs were allowed to enter Brunei.

The minister urged unvaccinated individuals to get their jabs as soon as possible so that Brunei can hit the 80 percent inoculation target earlier.

The health ministry Friday administered vaccine doses to just 636 people even though 2,000 vaccination slots have been allocated, indicating decreasing demand.

On Saturday, walk-in vaccinations were also allowed for Brunei citizens and permanent residents who have yet to take their first COVID-19 jab.

Gov’t mulls heavier fines on curfew offenders

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said law enforcers may hand out heavier fines if more people continue to break the two-week COVID-19 night restrictions.

A total of 179 on-the-spot fines have been issued since the 8pm to 4am curfew was imposed six days ago, including 36 on Friday night.

The minister went on to say that there is a possibility of raising the fine or adopting other methods to discourage people from leaving their homes at night.

“Before we announced the night curbs, we didn’t [intend to fine people], we just wanted public cooperation. But after thinking about it, people won’t be afraid if we don’t introduce fines. Even when we [imposed] a $100 fine, people are still going out,” he said.

He added that it is “discouraging” to see more than 170 people flouting the directive over the past five nights.

“These are people who were caught. We don’t know whether there are others who [roamed] around but did not get caught, so the number of people could be higher. This is not helping the government’s effort to contain this infection,” the minister said.

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

Death toll climbs to 41; 135 new cases reported

The health ministry confirmed 135 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, and a previous case whose death was pending investigation on October 1 has been classified as a COVID-19 fatality.

The victim was identified as an 88-year-old man.

Another COVID-19 patient with underlying health conditions died overnight but the 67-year-old woman’s death was not attributed to the virus.

The official death toll stands at 41.

Three new clusters emerged on Saturday, including the staff quarters of Belait-based Adinin Works & Engineering and oil and gas service provider Tendrill International.

The other new cluster was the result of a mass coronavirus testing operation in Sengkurong on Friday.

There are 2,168 active cases, including 39 who are warded in the intensive care unit.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar also called for more volunteers to join the government’s battle against COVID-19.

Apart from volunteers managed by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, 260 civil servants, 92 health volunteers as well as 105 private and retired doctors and nurses have stepped forward to help.

Individuals can register as volunteers by calling 7455109.