BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will shorten its night curfew from January 15 but travel restrictions will remain due to rising imported COVID-19 cases, the government said Monday.

Speaking to reporters at the COVID press briefing, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, said public health control measures under the “early endemic phase” will be extended for another month until February 14.

Beginning on Saturday, movement restrictions — which have been in place for over three months — will be shortened to 12am to 4am, instead of the current time of 10pm to 4am.

The shortened curfew hours would allow businesses to help boost the economy, while ensuring the COVID situation stays under control, the minister said.

Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin added that the decision to extend restrictions under the early endemic phase was made after taking into account the recent uptick in coronavirus infections.

“This extension also allows the government more time to ensure cases and bed occupancy rates at isolation centres remain low; increase the coverage of vaccine booster doses ;and [begin] the provision of vaccines to children aged 5 to 11,” he said.

Asked whether there is a need to tighten travel curbs following a jump in imported COVID cases, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin said the government is currently reviewing travel protocols.

“There was a time when we thought we could loosen the restrictions before Omicron [happened], but cases in other countries are increasing too.

“What’s important is that we don’t breach standard operating procedures, not just among passengers, but also hotel employees and drivers,” he said.

The government initially intended to resume non-essential air travel to four countries in January after a 21-month border closure, but the emergence of Omicron has thwarted that plan.

Since the start of the early endemic phase on December 15, a total of 315 coronavirus cases have been reported — 64 percent of local origin and 36 percent from incoming travelers.

The countries of origin for imported COVID-19 infections since Brunei entered the ‘early endemic phase’ on Dec 15, 2021. Graphic: Ministry of Health

Today’s coronavirus numbers

On Monday, the health ministry reported 44 new coronavirus infections — 30 from inbound travelers and 14 from local transmission.

The ministry also confirmed an additional 10 Omicron cases. To date, all 19 cases of the highly transmissible variant were imported. The Delta strain, which sparked Brunei’s worst COVID outbreak last year, is still dominant in the sultanate.

With an uptick in COVID cases due to imported infections, Brunei’s weekly case count has more than doubled. A total of 135 coronavirus cases were logged over the past seven days, up from 52 in the preceding week.

Sixty-one percent were local transmission, while 39 percent were imported.

The hospital bed occupancy rate stood at 2.3 percent at the start of last week, rising to 4.3 percent a week later.

In addition, the COVID positivity rate grew from 0.58 percent to 0.86 percent week-on-week.

More swab tests were also administered last week, with an average of 2,293 tests each day compared to 1,988 in the previous week.