BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Mosques and prayer halls will reopen to fully vaccinated worshippers next Friday, as the country prepares to loosen a number of COVID curbs starting November 19.

Minister of Religious Affairs YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin Dato Hj Othman said mosques will open for the five daily prayers, as well as mass Friday prayers, but other religious activities would only resume once is it safe to do so.

Only fully vaccinated men over 18 will be allowed to perform Friday prayers during the ‘transition phase’ of Brunei’s COVID recovery plan, before rules are further relaxed to accomodate women and minors in the endemic phase.

Speaking at the COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday, the minister said residents will have to book a spot for Friday prayers on the BruHealth app, as capacity will be limited due to physical distancing.

Congregants will also have to bring their own prayer mats and wear a face mask at all times. Ablutions must be performed at home as mosque amenities including restrooms will be closed.

All places of worship have been closed since August 8 as Brunei battled its worst coronavirus outbreak to date, with 13,711 infections reported in the past three months.

Mosques were also closed for 10 weeks during Brunei’s first COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, and reopened in phases from late May.

In this file photo dated May 29, 2020, Muslims perform Friday prayers at Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, which closed for 10 weeks due to COVID-19. Photo: Yusri Adanan/The Scoop

YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Badaruddin added that 80 percent of MORA staff have been fully vaccinated so far, while another 19 percent are awaiting their second dose. Just one percent of staff, or 58 people, are unvaccinated.

He also shared that 79 percent of religious school teachers have been double-dosed, with another 20 percent awaiting their second jab. Just 32 teachers are unvaccinated.

On Monday, the government announced that vaccination would be mandatory for all teachers and school staff, as well as childcare workers.

The vaccination drive for teens also kicked off on Monday, with authorities trying to push vaccination coverage above 85 percent so schools can reopen in January.

In the past four days, a total of 17,762 students aged 12-17 received their first COVID jab — just under half of the adolescent population, according to the education ministry.