BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – All fully vaccinated employees returning to workplaces in the public and private sectors will be required to take COVID-19 antigen rapid tests every two weeks once Brunei enters the transition phase of its pandemic exit plan.

In a COVID press briefing on Wednesday, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said antigen tests are needed to control the spread of infections when the country reopens its economy on November 19.

“We don’t want infections to rise again from transition to endemicity, we don’t want to take a step back,” he said.

New coronavirus infections have slowed in the sultanate over the past 10 days, with the health ministry reporting the fifth consecutive day of new cases staying under 100.

The government announced yesterday that Brunei will start lifting COVID-19 restrictions on November 19, but only fully vaccinated individuals can enter public venues such as workplaces and universities.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said enforcement agencies will monitor and ensure that employees in restaurants, universities and other companies perform antigen tests based on their schedule.

Government agencies will also be required to submit a list of their employees and dates of their antigen tests.

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Ain Bandial/ The Scoop

Currently, about 85 percent of public sector workers are fully vaccinated with 13 percent awaiting a second dose. Just 1.8 percent unvaccinated, said Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah.

During the transition phase, the government will pay for civil servants’ antigen tests but private employers will need to fork out money for their workers to access the test kits.

However, all unvaccinated public sector employees may be required to pay and take antigen tests every day before they can enter workplaces in the endemic phase, said the health minister.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said the Department of Economic Planning and Statistics will continue to monitor the pricing of test kits to ensure businesses do not hike costs.

Asked whether there will be enough testing kits for the population, the health minister said the government orders about one million antigen test kits a month.

Gyms can resume operations; contact sports permitted from Nov 19

The government will allow gyms to restart operations and contact sports to be played, as part of the loosening of COVID curbs beginning November 19.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said all indoor and outdoor sports facilities can reopen with 50 percent capacity during the transition phase, including swimming pools.

Football and other contact sports will be allowed when Brunei enters the transition phase on November 19. Photo: Infofoto

Other premises that can welcome back fully vaccinated customers included eateries, cinemas, hair and beauty salons, markets, arcades and indoor playgrounds.

Meanwhile, the health minister said 12- to 17-year-old adolescents who are no longer in school can book their COVID vaccination appointment via the BruHealth mobile app from November 19, or proceed to the Indoor Stadium for walk-in vaccination beginning November 20.

Walk-in vaccinations or BruHealth bookings will also open for teenagers who missed their appointment during the vaccine rollout from November 8-19 due to self-isolation.

For students with special needs, they will be given priority in the form of a special lane for vaccination.

The health ministry will also arrange vaccination services for students suffering from serious illness and unable to get their jabs at the vaccination centre at another time or place that will be announced at a later date.

As of Tuesday, 85.1 percent of Brunei residents have received at least one vaccine dose and 67.1 percent are fully jabbed.

One COVID-19 patient passes way

In the past 24 hours, a 74-year-old COVID patient had died but the health ministry did not attribute her death to the coronavirus as she had underlying health conditions.

The official COVID death toll stands at 55.

Fifty-seven new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Wednesday, while two new clusters were detected – staff houses of Soon Lee Mentiri and LSL Lugu.

There are now 753 active cases, including nine in the intensive care unit.