BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will enter the endemic phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan on Wednesday, December 15, loosening remaining restrictions on public life.

In a televised address, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said the decision to move forward was based on scientific data and analysis conducted by the relevant authorities.

“Over the past few months the effects of the outbreak have been felt. The restrictions that had to be put in place over time were getting heavier to face,” he said.

“We lost contact with mosques, surau and prayer halls. Due to restrictions, schools and educational centers also suspended operations. The economic productivity of business and public services were also affected by the restrictions. In short, no one could escape the impact [of the second wave].”

He added, “These restrictions are not imposed arbitrarily but were critical measures taken in line with the country’s capabilities and readiness.

“This epidemic cannot be completely eradicated in the near future. But this is just an prediction, and every prediction is not necessarily accurate. Everything is up to Allah alone. If Allah desires something, it can surely happen.”

The modalities of lifting remaining restrictions is expected to be announced in a Sunday afternoon press conference chaired by the health ministry.

The government previously announced a gradual lifting of restrictions outlined in its COVID-19 recovery plan, where full reopening of public spaces and international travel would be allowed to resume in the endemic phase.

“In this phase, the number of cases is not promised to decrease or increase, nor does it mean we have succeeded or not,” the sultan said.

“But instead, we will need to emphasise cooperation and being considerate among the community living in this new norm.”

His Majesty also acknowledged the fear over a potential new wave of infections, but said the community has faced considerable hardships under strict movement controls.

“Taking into account the current situation, while accepting the reality of a new way of life, it is time for us to take a step forward to minimise disruption to our quality of life by choosing the path towards Allah the Almighty.”

Brunei’s infection trend has been on a downward trend since late October, with just 150 COVID cases recorded last week, compared to an all-time high of 1,880 in mid-October.

A total of 87 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

The sultan said the infection trend remains difficult to predict, but that the public should continue to practise social responsibility in terms of physcial distancing and mask-wearing.

“Although this [endemic] phase allows the public to carry out daily activities as usual, precautions should still be taken without neglecting standard operating procedures,” he said.

The monarch added, “While living in the new norm, let’s not forget those who have left us due to this virus. I sympathise and feel very deep sadness over their passing. I am also moved by the patience of family members who were unable to bury or pay their last respects to their loved ones due to pandemic restrictions.”

Since the start of the second wave in early August 2021, Brunei has recorded 15,004 COVID infections and 53 deaths.