Brunei clamps down after first local virus cases in 15 months

The government will close all places of worship and postpone social events for two weeks. PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (AFP, XINHUA) - Brunei imposed strict curbs to halt the spread of Covid-19, after finding its first locally transmitted cases in the country in over a year.

Seven community infections were found, the health ministry said on Saturday (Aug 7), leading the government to close all places of worship and postpone social events for two weeks.

Mass events were also limited to groups of 30 people over this period as school classes were moved online and restaurants barred from serving dine-in.

All educational institutions must return to online learning, including after-school tuition, special needs centres and music classes, news platform The Scoop reported on Sunday.

Various facilities have also been ordered to close, including gyms, fitness centres, indoor and outdoor sports facilities, leisure centres, cinemas, internet cafes, playgrounds, driving schools, museums, libraries, galleries, beauty salons and barber shops.

During the two-week period, restaurants will not be allowed to host dine-in customers, and will be limited to take-aways and delivery services.

Other premises such as retail businesses, supermarkets, food stalls and outdoor markets are allowed to operate as long as physical distancing measures are implemented.

Companies have been urged to implement a work-from-home policy, allowing only essential workers into the office.

The health ministry reminded the public that according to revised face mask guidelines, which require face masks to be worn at all times and to cover the wearer's nose and mouth, any individual who fails to comply with the directive will be liable to a compound fine of 100 Brunei dollars (S$100).

The ministry also urged the public to use the BruHealth app when going to public places, and to activate the Bluetooth function in public areas. It said QR code scans were crucial in assisting the ministry to conduct timely contact tracing.

Health minister Dato Seri Setia Dr Mohd Isham Jaafar said the two-week period would give the health authorities time to study the cases and determine the sources of infections.

He added that the health ministry would "review this situation nearer to the end of two weeks to see where we are", the Scoop reported.

On Sunday, Brunei reported 17 new cases, including 15 local infections and two imported cases, bringing the total number of cases to 364.

The Islamic sultanate has recorded just three deaths since the pandemic began.

More than half of its infections so far were imported, with tight border controls and quarantine measures keeping the virus's spread in check.

Five of the oil-rich nation's first local infections since May last year were linked to a government-run virus monitoring centre.

"This cluster is believed to likely have been exposed to one of the imported cases in Brunei," the ministry said in a statement.

The source of infection for the other two could not be identified, the ministry added.

An imported case was also announced on Saturday: a man who arrived from the Middle East via Malaysia on July 30 before experiencing symptoms on Tuesday.

Brunei shares its only land border with Malaysia, which has so far recorded more than 1.26 million infections and over 10,700 deaths.

Brunei has been steadily ramping up its vaccination process, with nearly 32 per cent of its 450,000 people getting at least one jab.

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