BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will consider bringing back COVID-19 restrictions if the healthcare system is under strain from a jump in intensive care patients after Brunei reopens its economy on November 19.

During the COVID press briefing on Thursday, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the government might take public health control measures when a spike in coronavirus cases leads to rising ICU admissions.

“What’s important is if we see an increase in cases, we look at the hospital capacity, especially in the ICU.

“When it reaches a certain point or number that stretches the healthcare system, we need to think of taking measures,” he said.

The minister made the comments in response to a question on the specific hospitalisation rate that may trigger the return of coronavirus curbs after Brunei enters the transition phase of living with endemic COVID-19.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham is optimistic that the spread of the virus can be controlled if residents comply with health guidelines such as wearing of masks and observing social distancing during the transition phase.

He added that the country is not expected to stay in the transition phase for “too long” as it may take four to six weeks before the double-dose vaccination rate hits 80 percent.

The sultanate remains on track to reach the 80 percent vaccination threshold by the end of the year, with 86.3 percent of the population having received at least one vaccine dose and 67.4 percent completing their full vaccination regimen.

Brunei plans to lift most of its COVID curbs once it proceeds to the endemic phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan, including the reopening of air borders for leisure travel.

The health minister further clarified that only training for contact sports is allowed during the transition phase, while sports competitions are still banned.

Joining the press briefing, Education Minister YB Dato Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman said 17,762 students have taken their first jab against COVID since the teenage vaccine rollout began on Monday.

The number of students who took their first dose represents over 46 percent of the 38,201 students who were scheduled to be inoculated.

A teenager receives his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Indoor Stadium, Nov 8, 2021. Brunei is looking to vaccinate over 38,000 secondary school students over the next two weeks. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

MoH to set up new ‘antigen centre’

The health ministry will open an “antigen centre” that issues certificates as proof of unvaccinated employees taking COVID antigen rapid tests, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said.

He said the certificate will only be valid on the day of the antigen test.

Asked how will the government monitor all employees taking antigen tests every two weeks, he said one of the methods is for employees to produce the antigen test certificate.

All employees returning to workplaces in the private and public sectors will be required to perform self-tests every fortnight during the transition phase.

Each employee can also take a photo of their antigen test kits’ QR code to show that they have taken the test, the minister added.

A healthcare worker guides a man using the COVID-19 antigen rapid test at SHHB National Stadium on Nov 4, 2021. The government is encouraging the widespread use of ART testing as Brunei exits partial lockdown. Photo: Rasidah Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Two COVID-19 patients die, 96 new infections reported

Two more COVID-19 patients have died overnight, including a 59-year-old man who had underlying health conditions and his death was not attributed to the coronavirus.

The health ministry is still investigating the cause of death of the other COVID patient, a 61-year-old woman. Brunei’s death toll remains at 55.

A total of 96 new coronavirus infections were detected in the past 24 hours, pushing the national tally to 14,058.

Three of the additional cases were imported from Kuala Lumpur.

The ministry also identified four new clusters – WSS Kiulap construction dormitory and three private house clusters.

Among the 729 active cases, nine were admitted to the intensive care unit.