BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The religious affairs minister Saturday announced that Year 5-6 religious school pupils and Year 7-9 Arabic school students will be allowed to resume face-to-face learning next week.

During the COVID-19 press briefing, YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Awg Badaruddin Pengarah DP Hj Awg Othman said the second phase of religious and Arabic school reopening will go ahead on January 17.

He said no students tested positive for the coronavirus since schools resumed in-person classes for Year 10 to pre-university students on January 3.

In the second stage of school reopening, Year 5-6 pupils in religious schools can attend in-person lessons five times a week.

For Year 7-9 students at Arabic schools and Institut Tahfiz Al-Quran Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, face-to-face classes will be conducted four times a week with online lessons held on Saturdays.

Other religious and Arabic school students will continue home-based learning.

The minister said all returning students will be required to perform antigen rapid tests.

Apart from religious and Arabic schools, mainstream schools will also welcome back Year 7-9 students next week as part of the easing of COVID restrictions.

Moreover, children aged 3-4 can return to kindergartens, which are limited to 30 percent capacity.

Addressing public concerns on allowing unvaccinated children to attend preschool classes, the health minister said the decision was made after a survey found that the majority of parents agreed to reopen child care centres and kindergartens.

“The public should understand that there are many families or young parents who need to return to work.

“Not everyone has a maid or driver, and not everyone can afford one,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar.

The minister said it is unknown whether COVID vaccines will be available for children under five.

“If we wait [for the vaccines], we won’t know how long,” he added.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham further said parents can opt not to send their children to preschools if they are not confident in safe return to kindergartens.

All kindergartens and daycare centres must comply with health guidelines before they can resume operations, including the vaccination of teachers and carers.