Overview of COVID - 19 situation in Brunei Darussalam

Overview of COVID - 19 situation in Brunei Darussalam

Brunei Darussalam reported its first COVID – 19 on 9th March 2020 after a 53-year-old Bruneian man tested positive for the coronavirus where this case is linked to a mass Tabligh gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As of 21st May 2020, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Brunei is 141 with 1 death reported due to COVID – 19 complications. Currently, there are only 4 active cases with 2 cases under intensive care. Brunei Darussalam had recorded zero COVID-19 cases for 17 days since 8th May 2020 until 25th May 2020 (as of time of writing).

Measures taken to control viral transmission

One of the earliest measures done by the Government of Brunei to ensure the control of viral transmission is barring all Brunei residents from leaving the country. This is due to the rise of imported COVID-19 cases. This was followed by the closure of places of worship such as mosques, churches and temples, the closure of cinemas, museums and sport facilities, prohibition of dining in restaurants and classroom learning suspension starting from 31st March 2020. All learning in schools including universities, vocational, private institutions and international schools were done online. All foreigners were also barred from entering the country starting from 24th March 2020. Also, starting 20th March 2020, all inbound travelers would have to undergo a mandatory self-isolation for 14 days to ensure the viral transmission can be controlled and monitored.

The cleaning of mosques

The government of Brunei also opens the new Temburong bridge to the public to ease travel between Brunei Muara District and Temburong District. Previously, the public would have to cross Limbang of Malaysia by land or ride a 45 minutes boat ride by water in order to travel between the two districts. The government also constructs a new virology lab to increase Brunei’s testing capacity and the construction of a new building for the national isolation centre where all the COVID-19 cases were currently placed. By the construction of these new buildings, it is hoped that Brunei Darussalam can be fully prepared to combat COVID-19.

Other than these measures, the public are advised to only go out when necessary, to practice social distancing and to practice good hygiene. The public are also prohibited to do social gatherings. Family gatherings such as weddings and funerals can be done only with the immediate families of the bride/groom or in the case of funerals, the immediate families of the decease. The government have also advised workers in the government and private sectors to practice social distancing in the workplace and to reduce the amount of people working at the same time. Workers in the government are to come to the workplace alternately between the days and to work from home if possible.

Currently, the government had lifted some of the restrictions which is allowing the public to dine in the restaurants and also the reopening of the sport facilities starting from 16th May 2020. However, visits to the restaurants and sports facilities can only be done using a contact tracing mobile application called Bruhealth. With this mobile application, the user had to update their health status daily in order to enter commercial premises. This contact tracing application are launched to ensure that contract tracing can be eased and transmission can be controlled.

Social distancing measures at a market
Lessons learned from the pandemic and the effect of the virus on daily life and work.

The report of no new cases for over two weeks cannot be taken lightly as Brunei still have not declared their win for this war against COVID-19. Measures that have been done however are not in vain as these measures had proven to help curb the spread of the disease in the country. This is also due to the immense hard work of frontliners that includes the people working in the hospital, the police, the volunteers and the government sectors. To fully combat this disease the whole population must keep following the measures given by the government as everyone have a role in this difficult time.

In the present, Bruneians had to live with the ‘new normal’ of living while practicing social distancing, the norms of wearing a mask when going out and also practicing caution when out in the public. These new norms effected the lives of the people in Brunei especially Muslims as the celebration of the month of Ramadhan and Syawal could not be celebrated as usual. In the month of Ramadhan, usually there were religious gatherings done every night at the mosques for Tarawih Prayer that are only done in the month of Ramadhan and also Tadarus Al-Quran which is the group recitation of Al-Quran. However, this year, the Tarawih prayer can only be done inclusively among the family members at home. The celebration for the month of Syawal after Ramadhan was also minimized only among immediate family members as the usual visits to family members and friends cannot be practiced in order to avoid viral transmissions.

In the future, the people of Brunei would have to adapt to a new norm of updating their health status in the Bruhealth application as this application will be made mandatory for all residents in Brunei in the near future. Also, schools will start to reopen gradually starting from 2nd June 2020 for students that will face important examinations in Brunei such as the O and A levels examination. This will be followed with the reopening of primary schools, secondary schools, private institutions and international schools. Indeed, social distance practice and other necessary measures had to be implemented when the school reopens which include no morning assemblies and physical education classes are to be exempted.

By Siti Norafifah binti Haji Hanipah  (25th May 2020)