BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – As Omicron threatens to upend global recovery, Brunei’s monarch urged citizens to follow the government’s COVID advice as the domestic economy slowly reopens after four months of partial lockdown.

The sultanate is tentatively loosening a raft of COVID-19 restrictions, which were put in place last August when a Delta-driven second wave spurred more than 15,000 infections and caused 54 deaths.

“In an effort to face the pandemic, Brunei has implemented its national vaccination program smoothly and successfully to be able to bring the country into an endemic phase,” His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah said in his customary New Year’s Eve titah, which was broadcast Friday evening.

“By entering this phase … I also want to remind all of us not to be negligent or forgetful when given these relaxations, because even slight forgetfulness can bring about repercussions.”

The government began gradually lifting restrictions on November 19 with the introduction of vaccine passports, and announced it would lift more restrictions from December 17, treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease.

However, the discovery of the Omicron variant cast a shadow over Brunei’s recovery plan, with the government postponing plans to reopen borders to non-essential travellers.

“So far Omicron has spread almost all over the world increasing global concerns,” His Majesty said. “However, we as believers still see it as a decision of Allah.”

Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Sultan added that Brunei managed to successfully chair ASEAN in 2021 and improve its ranking in the World Bank’s Government Effectiveness Index.

“There is nothing more meaningful than expressing gratitude to Allah the Almighty for being able to be in the New Year 2022,” he said.

“I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to all levels of society who have worked together to support my government in dealing with the outbreak and the national development agenda.”

His Majesty also thanked international organisations and “friendly countries” for providing pandemic assistance during the second wave.