Full lockdown to jeopardize economy and employment

The government wants to avoid a total shutdown; counting on current control measures and treatment to stifle the pandemic as overall active cases lower

supermarket worker
A supermarket worker gathering an online order for delivery.

The Brunei government has stopped short of ordering for a full lockdown to combat the second wave of COVID-19 because of the serious implications a shutdown will have on the economy and wider society.

The Minister of Health and the Second Minister of Finance and Economy have said in recent days that while enforcing a lockdown is an option if the outbreak worsens, they are confident that the current set of control measures can flatten the curve if the public fully adheres to them.

Despite new cases reported daily, an increase in consistent daily recoveries has meant that the overall number of active COVID-19 cases in Brunei has dropped to 1,548 as of September 14, from a peak of over 1,800 in early September.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) reported on Monday that since August 14, 39 residents with red codes on BruHealth have been found violating their quarantine orders during patrols and roadblocks done by the police. These numbers indicate there are still residents risking further community transmission.

MoH has stepped up stay-at-home guidelines recently by mandating a red bracelet for COVID-19 patients and a blue bracelet for close contacts or those awaiting swab results.

Those wearing both bracelets are not allowed to be out in public, and being spotted with them in public or removing them before the specified date is a $5,000 fineable offence.

As part of the partial lockdown that has been in place since August 9 and will continue until October 3; recreational, learning, personal care and entertainment establishments have been closed. However other businesses are allowed to remain open.

Brunei’s major industries including upstream and downstream oil and gas also continue productivity with modified business continuity plans (BCP).

“At the moment we can’t really say which business is essential and non-essential. To the business owners, that’s their livelihood. It is essential for them to continue operating,” said Second Minister of Finance and Economy YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah on September 12 at the COVID-19 press conference.

“The workers also need income. So it’s essential for them to continue operating as much as possible to continue to pay the salary of the workers. Whether the worker is essential or not depends on the business.”

A full lockdown will also increase the likelihood that certain businesses may fold completely, jeopardising the livelihood of those they employ.

Residents are currently allowed to leave their homes for work, outdoor exercise, visiting their parents and purchasing essentials. MoH Minister Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said residents and businesses should adhere to current measures fully, before a lockdown is a considered.

“To carry out or implement a lockdown is far from easy, as it means no movement for least a month. No one will be allowed to send food or go to work for a month,” he said at the press conference on September 10.

“Not only will this take a toll on the economy, but on mental health, as well. We wish to avoid a full lockdown, since it will have an adverse impact on many.”

70% vaccination target on track as Brunei receives donations for 200,000 doses

With Japan and China recently donating 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines respectively, the Sultanate is back on track to achieving its 70% vaccination goal by the end of the year.

Brunei temporarily suspended first vaccine doses on September 1 for the general population as supply ran low and prioritised the remaining vaccines for administering second doses and vaccinating at-risk populations.

32% of the population is fully vaccinated with two doses as of September 14.

The Sultanate’s Pfizer vaccine orders are also expected to arrive before the end of 2021, which will be given to adolescents above 12-years-old.

Other countries have rolled back restrictions after the majority of their population has been fully vaccinated. The Minister of Health said that Brunei must consider the severity of local cases before scaling down, even if the vaccination goal has been achieved.

“Even if we reach (the target), we need to decide how will we scale down. A lot of factors need to be considered such as the state of healthcare system at the time, especially the number of critical cases,” he said.