BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei does not intend to target zero coronavirus infections before reopening its economy, the health minister said on Wednesday.

The coronavirus is not expected to be eradicated, thus the need to live with it as part of a new normal, said YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar during his daily COVID-19 press briefing.

The sultanate had waited for locally acquired cases to reach zero before easing restrictions in the first COVID-19 wave last year, but a resurgence in infections prompted the government to impose stricter rules over 10 weeks ago.

Brunei has kept its borders closed since March last year, despite not reporting any coronavirus cases for 15 months until the Delta-driven second wave hit.

The government plans to maintain some public health control measures in the transition to living with endemic COVID-19, even after 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“When we reach the 80 percent and move to the endemic phase, that does not mean we can do whatever we want.

“For example, there are other rules such as wearing masks and other limitations in terms of physical distancing and social gatherings,” he added.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said restrictions will be reviewed from time to time once Brunei begins its pivot to endemic COVID-19.

“[The restrictions are] not about admitting defeat or being scared [of the virus], but it will allow us to stay vigilant,” he continued.

An elderly man receives his first COVID-19 vaccine dose at Lamunin Health Centre in Tutong. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

The minister went on to say that the government is also observing the COVID-19 situation in neighbouring countries and nations in other regions where curbs have been relaxed.

Other countries’ experiences would allow the health ministry to assess what strategies work before deciding the best approach in moving towards an endemic COVID-19, he added.

Last week, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said unvaccinated individuals would face more COVID-19 curbs as the government mulls the use of vaccine passports.

For Brunei to loosen restrictions, the government is aiming to inoculate at least 80 percent of its population by the end of this year.

The country is on course to achieve its vaccination goal as 75.9 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, while 51.8 percent is fully jabbed.

MoH reports 166 new cases, one death

A total of 166 additional coronavirus cases were reported on Wednesday as another patient has died of COVID-19 complications.

The health ministry said a 53-year-old man passed away from a COVID-induced lung infection, taking the death toll to 51.

One new cluster has emerged at Anggerek Desa Staff House with nine cases.

Following the discovery of dozens of clusters linked to worker dormitories in the past fortnight, the government has also set up eight phone lines for the public to provide information on staff quarters with a high risk of COVID transmission.

Such information would assist the authorities to make health assessments and ensure migrant workers have taken their COVID-19 jabs, the ministry said.

The number of active cases stands at 2,688, including 26 in the intensive case unit.

More than 11,000 people also took antigen rapid tests at vaccination centres as part of the health ministry’s surveillance testing.

The minister said 48 people tested positive for the coronavirus during the random testing.