BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will allow essential travellers from Indonesia and South Asian countries to enter the country from November 1 as COVID-19 cases in these countries have declined.

Home Affairs Minister YB Pehin Dato Hj Awg Abu Bakar Hj Apong announced the lifting of restrictions on essential travel from six countries during a COVID press briefing on Wednesday

Passengers from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia can now apply to enter and exit Brunei via the Prime Minister’s Office website.

Essential travellers were described as holders of a valid work permit or foreign worker license, as well as those who were issued business and professional visit visas.

Foreign nationals who were granted pre-approval to enter Brunei before the travel suspension are required to re-submit their travel applications prior to their arrival.

The sultanate has been facing labour shortages in certain sectors as it relies heavily on skilled workers from South Asia and Indonesia.

Minister of Home Affairs YB Pehin Dato Hj Abu Bakar. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Six months ago, the government banned passengers from India as a deadly second wave of coronavirus infections ravaged the country.

India averaged 15,236 COVID cases a day over the past week – four percent of its peak of 414,188 daily infections on May 7.

More than 456,000 people were confirmed to have died from COVID complications in India, but a study found that its death toll could be 10 times higher than the reported figure.

Brunei also barred arrivals from other South Asian countries in May following the spread of India’s Delta outbreak to its neighbours.

In July, the government added Indonesia to the travel ban list after it became the epicentre of the pandemic.

About 4.2 million of people were infected with the virus in Indonesia, while more than 143,000 people have died. However, severe undercounting of fatalities was also reported due to low testing rates.

The Southeast Asian country’s daily COVID infections have since slowed down to an average of 686 in the last week.

Schools start distributing vaccination consent forms to parents

The health minister said schools have begun distributing COVID-19 vaccination consent forms to parents and guardians, in preparation for the vaccine drive among adolescents aged 12 to 17.

“It is hoped that this will contribute to a smooth administration of the COVID-19 vaccination when the programme commences in the near future,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said in his press briefing.

Parents and guardians were requested to complete and bring the form to their children’s vaccine appointment.

The government earlier this month approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for teenagers as it seeks to get at least 80 percent of the population fully jabbed by the end of this year.

About 40,000 teenagers are eligible to take the vaccine, with health experts saying inoculating students will prevent the virus from spreading to the wider community.

The ministry said it will also make arrangements for students who do not attend mainstream schools or are homeschooled to get jabbed.

Meanwhile, mobile vaccination services will be available for Mukim Serasa residents at Muara Health Centre on Friday from 9am to 12pm and Sunday from 9am to 2.30pm.

This will be fifth stop of the mobile vaccine drive, which started two weeks ago.

To date, 81.4 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose and 57.8 percent is fully vaccinated.

115 new cases, another cluster linked to worker dorms

Brunei’s daily coronavirus case count reached 115 on Wednesday – a 45 percent fall from a day ago.

The health ministry detected four new clusters, including three households and one linked to the staff quarters of Makmur Jaya Construction.

More cases are expected to emerge from migrant worker dormitories in the next few days as the ministry continues its surveillance testing and swabbing of close contacts.

Nearly 7,000 foreign workers had been swabbed in a mass testing of 15 worker dormitories in the past month.