BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Over half of mosques across the country have been fully booked for mass Friday prayers as more than 30,000 fully vaccinated Muslims are expected to return to places of worship this week after a three-month closure.

During the COVID-19 press briefing on Wednesday, the health minister said booking slots have been filled at 57 mosques, hours after reservations opened on the BruHealth mobile app.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said another 11 mosques have reached 80 to 90 percent of their allowed capacity.

A total of 37,272 people secured a spot to attend Friday prayers on BruHealth as of 3pm on Wednesday, according to health ministry figures.

This means that over 86 percent of 43,110 available appointment slots have been occupied.

Mosques and prayer halls are permitted to reopen with a 50 percent capacity limit or up to 200 people, as part of Brunei’s gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions in the transition phase of its national COVID recovery plan this Friday.

Only men who have received two vaccine doses against COVID and aged over 18 can perform Friday prayers during the transition phase. Rules will be relaxed further to accommodate women and minors in the endemic phase.

To date, 71.9 percent of the population has completed the full vaccination regimen while 90.9 percent of Brunei residents have taken at least one jab.

The government decided to reopen the economy on Friday following the increasing vaccination rate and declining COVID cases.

Some 87 new coronavirus infections were reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of active cases to 494.

Four new clusters were identified, including the staff quarters of Sweet Lemongrass Restaurant and three private households.

Minister of Transport and Infocommunications YB Dato Abd Mutalib. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

MTIC issues health protocols for driving schools and public transport use

Driving lessons will resume on Saturday with 23 driving schools restarting their operations during the transition phase, the minister of transport and infocommunications said.

Joining the press briefing, YB Dato Seri Setia Abdul Mutalib POKSSDP Hj Mohammad Yusof said 318 practical driving test slots will also be available from November 27 to December 31.

A total of 308 people were waiting to take their driving tests, he said.

Under the transition phase guidelines, driving theory lessons and highway code tests will be conducted online.

Every driving instructor, examiner and student must be fully jabbed and take antigen rapid tests.

For public transport services such as buses, taxis, e-hailing vehicles, boats and ships, passengers are capped at 50 percent.

Giving an example, the minister said only two passengers are allowed if the taxi and e-hailing vehicle load is for five people.

For vehicles with a seat capacity of seven people, the passenger limit is set at a maximum of three.

All public transport drivers and passengers must be fully vaccinated with a green or yellow BruHealth code.

Pandemic accelerates use of digital technologies

MTIC said household broadband subscriptions have increased substantially as more people work and study from home amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

YB Dato Abd Mutalib said 75.25 percent of households now have broadband access, hitting the ministry’s target of 75 percent four years earlier than planned.

“Like other countries, our [digital transformation] agenda is pushed forward. MTIC and other agencies have a role to conduct a quarterly review of the strategic plan as digital technology can’t be predicted because it’s too fast and dynamic.”

“Our infrastructure is in place but instead of waiting for 2025, the need for digital [transformation] is already here from healthcare, education to other sectors,” he added.

The minister further said MTIC received about 97,000 online applications for driving and vehicle license renewals since the second wave of COVID infections started on August 7.

“This is very encouraging. Around 90 percent of the applications have been processed,” he said.