BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government has said that Brunei’s land borders cannot remain closed indefinitely, even though COVID-19 cases in the country continue to climb, fuelled by the Omicron sub-variant BA.5.

“The time has come for us to open up travels via land and sea to our neighbouring countries,” Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah, second minister of finance and economy, said on Thursday.

“We can’t close our borders forever.”

Brunei restarted air travel in April, but land and maritime borders with Malaysia have remained closed, with a target to reopen them on August 1.

Despite a degree of public anxiety, the government said Bruneians must adjust to the “new normal” and learn to live with COVID, as long as deaths and hospitalisations remain low.

“Some 73.8% of all residents in this country have received a third vaccine dose already, and 4.6% have received their fourth dose,” Dato Amin said.

“We’ve communicated with our neighbouring countries regarding [the importance of reopening for] business, but also about [reuniting] families. We need to think about that too.”

A total of 11,669 new infections were reported from July 5-11, up 21.6% from the previous week. Ten deaths have also been recorded in the past seven days.

The health ministry said gene sequencing showed that most new infections were due to the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants, an offshoot of Omicron that is driving a global surge in cases.

Announcing updated travel guidelines on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office said all Bruneian citizens and permanent residents who wish to enter or exit the country must have taken at least three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

If they have not received a booster, their last vaccine dose must have been given within the past three months.

Those who are unvaccinated require proof of medical exemption.

Dato Amin added that all travellers planning to re-enter Brunei must purchase COVID-19 travel insurance, even if they are just crossing the border on a day trip.

“For those that go out frequently, instead of purchasing it for each trip, maybe they can purchase one that covers the whole month or an entire year,” he told media during a press conference.

“We can’t predict what will happen when we leave the country, so this is one of the best practices we can implement, not just for land and sea travels but also air travels.”