BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Fully vaccinated travellers entering Brunei will undergo a shorter isolation period of one to seven days from 14, as part of the government’s revised COVID-19 quarantine rules starting October 15.

Announcing the changes to quarantine measures, the health minister Thursday said the shorter quarantine period applies to individuals who received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose at least two weeks before their arrival to Brunei.

However, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the quarantine duration is also dependent on the risk assessment of travellers’ country of departure.

To determine passengers’ quarantine period, health authorities will also take into account the type of vaccine administered and negative PCR test results for coronavirus before and after their arrival.

Essential travellers are still required to seek approval from the Prime Minister’s Office to enter and leave Brunei.

With one of the world’s toughest travel restrictions, the sultanate has been keeping its borders closed to non-essential travel since March last year.

Currently, only passengers under the Brunei-Singapore green lane travel arrangement are allowed to skip the 14-day isolation period.

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

In another change to travel guidelines, all arrivals must get a COVID-19 PCR test within 48 hours before their scheduled flight departure.

Passengers were previously required to take a pre-departure PCR test within 72 hours prior to their arrival.

For travellers who have yet to complete their full vaccination regimen, they must still undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine at designated hotels.

Use of vaccine passports a ‘big possibility’

The health minister has hinted at a “big possibility” that unvaccinated individuals will face more COVID-19 restrictions after the economy reopens.

Asked whether Brunei will follow in the footsteps of Singapore’s tighter rules against those who are not jabbed, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the COVID-19 committee is still assessing the need to impose stricter curbs on unvaccinated people.

“There’s a big possibility we will be using our vaccine passport. If you are not vaccinated, it’ll be difficult for you,” he added.

Vaccine passports have been used in other countries to prove an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status and determine whether they can access public spaces.

However, the World Health Organization currently does not support mandatory use of vaccine passports due to discrimination and equity concerns.

The minister also warned frontline workers that they must get inoculated or make a career change.

“If they still don’t want to get jabbed, then change or let go of their jobs. Frontliners act as our fortress [against COVID]. If our fortress is weak, then how do we protect our communities?”

In August, the government mandated all frontliners to get vaccinated, including healthcare workers, customs and immigration officers and other uniformed personnel.

As of Wednesday, 74.4 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose while 48.4 percent is fully jabbed.

The country is aiming to inoculate at least 80 percent of the population before easing COVID-19 curbs.

Migrant workers register for the COVID-19 vaccine at Labi Health Clinic on Oct 11, 2021. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Vaccination for Lamunin and Lumapas residents

The health ministry will extend its vaccination programme for rural residents and vulnerable groups in Tutong’s Mukim Lamunin and Kampung Sungai Asam at Brunei-Muara’s Mukim Lumapas.

Earlier this week, Labi Health Centre provided a three-day vaccination service to rural residents in Belait.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said 298 people took their first jabs during the vaccine drive at Labi.

The ministry initially set a target to vaccinate 500 people in the area.

163 new cases, three more clusters linked to staff quarters

New COVID-19 cases declined for the second straight day, with the health ministry reporting 163 additional infections on Thursday.

Five new clusters were identified, including three linked to the worker dormitories of construction companies LNS Sdn Bhd, Hasnaljar Sdn Bhd and Degymix Enterprise.

Over 60 percent of cases reported last week were linked to foreign worker housing.

Two clusters were closed – Institute of Brunei Technical Education Kuala Belait campus with 86 cases and 1888 household cluster.

The overall COVID-19 tally stands at 9,828.

Some 25 people were caught flouting the night curfew on Wednesday after the government increased the fine to $500.

The names of curfew breakers were also published during Thursday’s press briefing.

A total of 331 violations were found since the 8pm-4am movement restrictions were imposed on October 4.