BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The health ministry has confirmed Brunei’s first case of the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant.

During the COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar Thursday said the Omicron variant was detected in a traveller who arrived from the UK on December 17.

He said the case was quarantined upon arrival in Brunei and no longer experiencing any symptoms.

The announcement of the imported Omicron infection comes a day after authorities revoked the decision to include the UK from the green travel list due to a jump in Omicron cases.

While noting that Omicron is more infectious than the Delta strain, the minister called for calm and not to ignore health protocols.

Citing studies in South Africa and London, he said Omicron cases were found to be less severe than Delta as there were fewer deaths and hospitalisations.

The latest strain was first identified in South Africa last month, spurring an exponential rise in COVID cases before starting to decline this week.

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

Scientists broadly agree that Omicron is the most contagious COVID variant yet, but the World Health Organization recently said there is still “limited data” on the severity of Omicron despite symptoms appearing to be milder than Delta.

Omicron has been reported in about 90 countries and is the dominant strain across Europe and in the US.

Asked whether Brunei’s healthcare system can cope with a spike in Omicron cases, Acting Permanent Secretary of Health Dr Hjh Anie Haryani Hj Abd Rahman said many hospital beds are available now as the bed occupancy rate stood at 3.9 percent on Thursday.

“We think people will fit the criteria for home treatment or home isolation since [Omicron] is mild, so we should be okay,” she said on the sidelines of the press briefing.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said the public should not panic following the arrival of Omicron in Brunei as the vaccination rate is high in the country.

Individuals should get their booster shots as soon as they are eligible to receive it three months after their second jab, he said.

“Studies have found that two doses of the vaccine can provide good protection against severe [illness] from the Omicron variant, and a third dose will provide higher protection against infection and even mild symptoms,” he added.

A total of 92.9 percent of the Brunei population is double-vaccinated, and 12.5 percent of residents have been given a booster shot.

All slots for booster shots in the next two weeks have been filled on the BruHealth app, but walk-in vaccinations are still available for seniors, pregnant women and special needs individuals.

After holding daily COVID press briefings for more than four months, the health minister announced that the news conference will take a three-day hiatus and resume on December 27.