BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Brunei has reached the 70 percent double dose vaccination milestone on Monday, four days before it starts relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in the transition phase of its pandemic exit plan.

A total of 301,503 people, or 70.1 percent of the population, have completed their full vaccination regimen, according to health ministry figures.

Some 89.1 percent of Brunei residents have received at least once vaccine dose since the national vaccination programme began seven months ago.

The government projected that the sultanate will hit the 80 percent vaccination target before the end of the year, paving the way to remove most movement control measures in the endemic phase.

Providing updates on COVID in his daily press briefing, the health minister said 73 percent of the population might be fully jabbed by the time Brunei reopens its economy in the transition phase.

“We can reach 80 percent [vaccination coverage] in two to three weeks. It will most likely be earlier than expected, maybe we will hit the 80 percent [goal] by end of November or early December, said YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar.

While the number of cases has declined in the past two weeks, Brunei has abandoned the zero COVID strategy adopted in the first wave of infections last year as the coronavirus is not expected to be eradicated.

Instead, the government has drawn up a three-phase pandemic exit plan to co-exist with COVID-19 and return to some semblance of normalcy.

Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

‘No best time to reopen economy’

Justifying the decision to ease COVID curbs with a 70 percent vaccination rate, the second minister of finance and economy said there is “no best time” to reopen the economy after taking into account several factors.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said Brunei can no longer continue imposing strict public health control measures, including the night curfew since October 4.

He said the increasing vaccination coverage was one of the major factors in loosening restrictions.

Among seniors who are at higher risk of developing severe disease, the vast majority (99.5 percent) have taken at least one vaccine dose against COVID, while 92.7 percent are fully jabbed.

Moreover, tens of thousands of teenagers aged 12 to 17 have already been administered with their first vaccine dose.

The minister added that a spike in coronavirus infections during the transition phase is not expected to overwhelm the healthcare system as the majority of cases would be mild.

“When we analyse the data since August, about 97 to 98 percent of [positive] cases can isolate at home and not required to be [hospitalised].

“This means that even if there is a rise in cases, it won’t burden our healthcare capacity,” he continued.

Noting that Brunei will gradually lift COVID restrictions, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said health protocols and capacity limits will still be in place at public venues.

During the transition phase, only fully vaccinated individuals will be allowed to enter public places.

In response to a question on whether antigen rapid tests are mandatory for all employees in the private sector, the health minister said it is “highly recommended” for businesses to provide antigen tests every fortnight.

“The government is conducting it every two weeks, so it’s better for them to follow what the government is doing,” he added.

Source: Ministry of Health | Graphic: Dr Wee Chian Koh

COVID cases continue downward trend

Brunei logged 54 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, maintaining its downward trend this month.

The weekly case count fell again, a 34 percent decrease compared to the previous week.

Four new clusters were detected overnight, including Kg Menengah staff house, Medait Enterprise staff house in Jangsak and Mata-Mata construction site.

The number of intensive care patients also dropped to the lowest rate of five since August 15.

The national COVID-19 tally stands at 14,269.