BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Schools will suspend in-person learning and switch to online classes from March 7 as a surge in COVID-19 cases has caused low attendance among students, the government said Friday.

Announcing revised health guidelines at a press briefing, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said child care centres, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, sixth form centres, as well as religious schools will return to virtual lessons for two weeks until March 19.

The decision to shift to virtual learning was made after a “significant reduction” of students attending face-to-face classes, and focusing on online lessons would improve teaching delivery, the minister said.

Joining the news conference, the education minister said his ministry and religious affairs ministry found that it was better to synchronise teaching methods because educators are currently using different modes of delivery for learning.

“Synchronous teaching allows our teachers to focus on effectively delivering lessons so that our students can make progress in their studies. That’s why this coordination is being done,” added YB Dato Hj Hamzah Hj Sulaiman.

However, consideration would be given to schools that sought permission to conduct face-to-face learning for students who will sit for international examinations.

Despite no school clusters reported in the third wave so far, this will be the third time that schools are forced to shift to online learning since the COVID pandemic hit in 2020.

The suspension of in-person classes comes three months after Year 10-13 students became the first group to resume face-to-face learning following a five-month school closure last year.

The education minister also urged parents to play their part by keeping track of their children’s schoolwork and monitoring their physical and mental health.

Meanwhile, the government has limited private social gatherings to 30 people under revised guidelines. Guests are also expected to perform antigen rapid tests before attending events at private homes, and comply with health rules such as wearing of face masks and practising physical distancing.

For events organised in halls, the number of people is still capped at 300. The event organiser must also ensure that each attendee takes an antigen test before entering the premises.

A woman receives her first dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Indoor Stadium. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

COVID cases less severe in third wave

Coupled with the Omicron variant’s milder symptoms, Brunei’s high COVID vaccination coverage has contributed to a significant decrease in the severity of coronavirus cases in the third wave, the health ministry said.

Reading a statement on behalf of the health ministry, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew said epidemiological monitoring showed that the number of coronavirus cases requiring intensive care in the current outbreak were lower than the first and second waves.

During the first and second wave of infections, 4.5 percent and 0.6 percent of 10,000 cases were in categories 4 and 5, respectively.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) said only 0.06 percent of 10,000 cases either needed oxygen supplementation or were placed on a ventilator in the third wave.

The sultanate has been grappling with a record spike in Omicron-driven coronavirus cases in recent weeks, averaging over 4,000 infections in the past seven days.

However, the number of COVID-related deaths since January 1 remained low at 10, accounting for less than 0.02 percent of infections in the third wave.

“This indicates the effectiveness of the national vaccination programme, which has succeeded in significantly reducing the number of cases severely affected by COVID-19,” the ministry added.

Brunei has the world’s second highest double vaccination rate of over 94 percent, behind the United Arab Emirates’ 97 percent.

To date, 55.8 percent of the population has received a third vaccine dose against the coronavirus.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin further said MoH will publish a list of 20 locations that sell authorised antigen rapid test kits on March 5.

Earlier this week, the ministry said it would import 9 million antigen test kits to meet the high public demand.

About 75 to 80 percent of COVID cases were diagnosed via antigen tests after the government scrapped confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing last month.

Volunteers prepare food packages at Pusat Belia for individuals undergoing isolation on August 31, 2021. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

MCYS working to address delays in delivery of food rations

Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports YB Dato Hj Aminuddin Ihsan Hj Abidin has apologised for delays in the distribution of food rations to individuals undergoing home isolation.

Speaking at the press briefing, he said more manpower will be deployed to process the large number of people who need food aid.

“We will increase the number of callers and people who are processing and filtering names to ensure it can be done in less than a day. We’ll try to reduce it from two days to one day,” he added.

Individuals were urged to update whether they need food rations on the BruHealth app, which will cut the processing time and speed up the distribution of food to those who need it most.

With the majority of positive cases isolating at home in the third wave, the minister said volunteers deliver food rations to about 1,000 houses a day, double the number in previous waves.

Since the pandemic began, the Department of Community Development and youth volunteers have distributed food to 35,078 houses for 180,462 individuals across the four districts.