BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – On-the-spot fines of up to $5,000 will be issued to businesses and individuals who flout public health guidelines during the COVID-19 transition phase, the government said a day before Brunei starts to gradually reopen its economy.

Brunei will relax COVID restrictions on Friday, allowing businesses such as hair salons, fitness centres and cinemas to welcome back fully jabbed customers after more than three months of closure.

More than 37,000 Muslims are also expected to return to mosques for Friday prayers, with the health minister saying slots have been filled up at 79 mosques and prayer halls.

Spelling out the penalties for COVID-related offences, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said business premises found exceeding the 50 percent capacity limit will be handed a $5,000 compound fine.

Businesses that allow any unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individual to enter their premises will be fined $2,000 for each violation.

However, critical employees who work in isolation or with little social interaction — such as engineers in the oil and gas sector — will be exempted from the fine.

In addition, individuals who have yet to take two vaccine doses will be fined $100 if they are found entering public venues.

During the transition phase, the government will also maintain the $500 fine for those who break the 10pm curfew.

The government sent the country into a partial lockdown on August 7 as it grappled with its worst coronavirus outbreak driven by the fast-spreading Delta variant.

A total of 14,060 COVID cases have been reported in the second wave, accounting for 97.6 percent of the cumulative confirmed infections.

New coronavirus cases have slowed down since the beginning of November and the double dose vaccination rate has surpassed 70 percent, prompting the government to loosen restrictions.

An additional 21 COVID infections were recorded in the past 24 hours, including one imported from Jakarta, while two new clusters have emerged at Sg Hanching Construction staff house and Elmar General Contractor.

MoH warns against joining large crowds

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham has warned the public to stay vigilant and comply with health protocols ahead of the partial reopening.

“The transition phase doesn’t mean COVID no longer exists. Even though restrictions are eased like shops or restaurants, the public shouldn’t be too eager to go out in large groups.

“We want this transition phase to run smoothly for us to enter the [endemic] phase, so don’t go out unless it’s necessary,” he added.

Brunei aims to lift most COVID curbs, including the reopening of borders during the endemic phase when at least 80 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.

Before the sultanate can proceed to the endemic phase, the minister said the hospitalisation rate and number of ICU admissions must not overwhelm the healthcare system.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said it would be “no surprise” if Brunei sees a jump in COVID cases during the transition phase.

“We expect cases to rise, hopefully it will not, but if it increases, we want to see how many are hospitalised and need treatment.

“So if not many are hospitalised at [the National Isolation Centre] and it’s still stable at 10 percent, then we can still move to the next phase,” he added.

The minister last week said movement control curbs might be reinstated if the healthcare system is stretched thin.

Among the 444 active cases on Thursday, five people are receiving treatment at the intensive care unit.