BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei will press ahead with 38th National Day celebrations despite an unprecedented surge in Omicron cases over the past week.

Speaking to reporters at the COVID-19 news conference on Saturday, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the National Day will be celebrated on a “moderate” scale this year.

About 3,800 people are expected to take part in the National Day parade at Taman Hj Sir Muda Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien (SOAS) next Wednesday, compared to about 25,000 attendees before the COVID pandemic struck in 2020.

The sultanate had scaled down its National Day celebrations for the past two years, though no major coronavirus outbreaks were reported at the time.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and other members of the royal family are also expected to join the crowd in honoring COVID-19 frontliners at the parade for the second year in a row.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Responding to a question on health protocols at the National Day parade, YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said “ring-fencing” measures for infection control will be adopted around the area where the procession will take place.

Participants and members of the public can only enter Taman SOAS after they show negative antigen test results and green, or yellow BruHealth codes.

In a press statement, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports said children aged 12 and below will not be allowed to attend the National Day parade and all attendees must be fully vaccinated against COVID.

Antigen rapid test stations or checkpoints will also be set up for the public to perform self-tests. They are also required to bring their identity cards as proof of identification.

Only 230 seats have been reserved for members of the public who wish to join the celebrations.

For the past two weeks, Brunei has been setting record-breaking numbers of coronavirus cases that were driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) reported nearly 10,000 COVID cases this week alone, with the cumulative number of confirmed infections at 32,513.

However, the bed occupancy rate at isolation centres remained low at 9.1 percent as the majority (13,047) of active cases are self-isolating at home with mild or no symptoms.

Four people are currently warded at the intensive care unit.

The soaring caseload came after MoH’s decision to include positive antigen tests into its official COVID tally since Thursday.

Noting that more people were diagnosed with the coronavirus through self-administered tests today, YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said the use of antigen tests allows the swift detection of positive cases.

The minister further said positive cases and their close contacts will be prioritised in getting free antigen test kits due to their limited availability.