BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei is in early discussions with Malaysia to establish a vaccinated travel lane, as the sultanate prepares to reopen its air borders after being shut for more than 19 months.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar confirmed that talks have started with Malaysia on allowing fully vaccinated travellers to fly between the two countries with minimal or no quarantine requirements.

“Discussions have started but not in detail yet. We want to see [neighbouring countries’] travel arrangements too.

“We’re targeting to open our borders after hitting at least an 80 percent vaccination rate. Once we have nearly reached the target, we will study it in more detail,” he said during his daily COVID press briefing on Saturday.

Malaysia and Indonesia recently agreed to start quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes by early next year, while Singapore has similar travel arrangements with 13 countries.

Asked whether Brunei is also holding talks with other countries on the travel scheme, the health minister said a “few other countries” have expressed their interest.

Brunei still maintains a reciprocal green lane arrangement with Singapore that allows essential travellers from both countries to skip the 14-day quarantine period.

The sultanate could reopen its air borders as soon as December, enabling Brunei residents to leave the country for leisure travel and welcoming back tourists.

A healthcare worker prepares to administer the Pfizer vaccine to a teenager on November 8, 2021. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

MoH: No traces of pork DNA found in COVID vaccines

Addressing claims of COVID-19 vaccines containing pork-derived ingredients, the health minister assured the public that DNA tests showed that animal cells were not found in the final vaccine product.

“Our DNA test for pigs is among the strictest [in the world]. We can detect one in 10 million cells, but none were found,” he said.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham added that all four vaccines administered in Brunei – Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Moderna and Pfizer – did not contain traces of pork following lab tests.

“When people say the vaccines contain pork, that is incorrect,” he said, adding that the State Mufti’s Office has already issued a fatwa stating the use of COVID-19 vaccine is permissible under Islamic law.

“Even if it does contain traces of pig and there is no other alternative, it is still allowed in our religion. Like other medications, we still have to use them.

“I hope the public trust in Allah SWT’s plan with the knowledge that we have, especially those who still doubt whether it is halal. We can take the vaccine with confidence,” he continued.

As of Friday, 87.9 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose against COVID and 68.7 percent has completed the full vaccination regimen.

The government is upbeat on hitting the 70 percent double dose vaccination rate before it eases COVID-19 restrictions as part of the transition phase that begins on November 19.

Mobile vaccination services will be available for residents of Kampung Menunggol and surrounding areas at Nakhoda Ragam Abdul Rashid Primary School Hall on November 14 from 10am to 2.30pm.

Mukim Lamunin, Ukong and Rambai residents can also proceed to Tutong’s Lamunin Health Centre to get their jabs on November 15, 17 and 18 from 9am to 2.30pm.

Both locations welcome adults who have yet to take their first dose and those who are awaiting their second jab.

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Death toll climbs to 57

Brunei reported two COVID-related deaths on Saturday, raising the death toll to 57.

A 48-year-old woman died of coronavirus complications overnight, while a 61-year-old woman’s death that was pending investigation on Thursday has been confirmed as a COVID-linked death.

A total of 51 additional coronavirus cases were detected in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall tally to 14,172.

Two new clusters emerged – JPCC dormitory and a private household cluster.

Among the 627 active cases, seven are warded in the intensive care unit.

Meanwhile, the health minister said some healthcare services such as dental care will remain limited when Brunei enters the transition phase.

Noting that there is a shortage of healthcare workers, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said many doctors and nurses had been redeployed to COVID isolation and swab centres nationwide.

“We hope the public can understand when there are some shortcomings in services especially during the transition phase, but they need to remember that [healthcare workers] are still working to contain COVID-19,” he added.