Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar  (L) and Ministry of Religious Affairs YB Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Awang Badaruddin during the press conference held yesterday. Image: Rafidah Hamit

Fourteen additional COVID-19 cases were identified in the sultanate, the Ministry of Health (MoH) reported yesterday, bringing the total of 25 confirmed cases.

This was announced during a joint press conference between the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) at Al-Afiah hall.

Health Minister Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said 13 of the identified individuals were involved in the religious event (Tabligh) that took place at Masjid Jamek Seri Petaling in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia recently.

Case breakdown
• Case 12 is a 53-year-old male who returned to Brunei via Air Asia flight AK5644 on March 4 to Miri, Sarawak.

The individual then shared a ride with Cases 7, 8 and 21 to return back to the country and experienced a fever on March 6.

• Case 13 is a 45-year-old male who returned on March 3 via Air Asia flight AK278 to the capital on seat 19A. He began showing symptoms of headache and coughing on March 4.

• Case 14 is the wife of case 13 who does not have any travel history to Kuala Lumpur. She shows no signs of infection.

• Case 15 is a 33-year-old male who also participated in the religious event, flew back on March 3 on the same Air Asia flight AK278 and does not show any signs of infection.

• Cases 16 and 17 are males aged 63 and 33 respectively who returned to the sultanate via Royal Brunei flight BI872. Both do not show any signs of infection.

• Case 18 is the wife of Case 8, a 30-year-old who does not have any travel history of travel to Kuala Lumpur. She showcased mild symptoms such as coughing and flu.

• Case 19 is a 34-year-old who had a history of travelling to Kuala Lumpur where he was tasked as the driver of the Tabligh participants but did not take part in the event.

He returned to Brunei on March 3 through Royal Brunei flight BI874 and did not show any symptoms.

Source: Ministry of Health

• Case 20 is a 64-year-old who also participated in the religious event but returned to the sultanate on February 29 through Air Asia flight AK278. He started to show symptoms on March 9.

• Case 21 is a 35-year-old male who came back through Air Asia AK5644 on March 4 to Miri, Sarawak.

He shared a ride with Cases 7, 8 and 12 back to Brunei and does not show symptoms of infection.

• Case 22 is a co-worker of Case 3, with no travel history to Kuala Lumpur and shows no signs of infection.

The 31-year-old male underwent the test as a precautionary measure of close contact with Case 3.

• Cases 23 and 24 are males aged 63 and 30, who also participated in the mass religious gathering in Kuala Lumpur and do not show any signs of infection.

• Meanwhile, Case 25 is male with a travel history to Kuala Lumpur and Cambodia and has no relation to the mass religious gathering at Masjid Jamek Seri Petaling.

The 64-year-old returned to Brunei on March 4 and experienced a fever on March 8.

Source: Ministry of Health

Contact tracing
Contact tracings of the newly confirmed cases are currently on-going and are carried out towards close contacts including family members, co-workers and anyone associated with the case.

MoH said the individuals will be contacted and evaluated in terms of risk of infection.

“If these contacts are exposed, they will be directed to undergo laboratory tests for COVID-19 and quarantined,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham.

The ministry has further updated the number of locals who participated in the mass religious gathering (Tabligh) from February 28 to March 3.

To date, 81 have been identified, where 70 of them have returned to the sultanate.

“66 of them have tested for COVID-19 and efforts are being made to track down four more individuals.”

MoH reported that out of the 66 individuals, 16 were found positive for COVID-19, 25 were found negative, while the remaining 25 are still waiting for results.

“11 of them are still overseas, including three individuals who are studying in Malaysia,” said the health minister.

“We can’t locate them and therefore hope those who know them will advise them to take a test for COVID-19 as soon as possible, wherever they may be.”

The MoH would also like to inform the public that all confirmed cases are currently treated at the National Isolation Centre in Tutong.

“They are well, afebrile (not feverish) and do not require any breathing assistance,” added YB Dato Paduka Dr Hj Md Isham.

In a previous media statement on March 9, MoH had sent samples from the first five confirmed cases for further validation to the WHO Reference Laboratory in Singapore, in accordance to WHO guidelines.

According to YB Dato Paduka Dr Hj Md Isham, these tests have validated that the cases are positive for COVID-19.

With this, Brunei is verified for conducting laboratory testing for COVID-19 in the country.

Updated law
The health minister also announced an amendment to the Infectious Disease Act (Chapter 204) and its Regulations i.e. Infectious Diseases (Amendment of Schedule) Notification, 2020 and Infectious Diseases (Quarantine) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 have gazetted.

Under the Act, those who or are suspected to be a case, carrier or contact of an infectious disease may be required to undergo a medical examination or medical treatment either in a hospital or any other place as determined by the Director-General Ministry of Health.

Failure to comply with this provision is an offence under this Law and the person may be ordered to be transferred to a hospital or another place where he can be detained and, if necessary, isolated until examination or treatment has been undertaken.

In addition, those who obstruct or assisted in obstructing authorized officers in carrying their duties or provided false information or misleading information is also an offence under the Law.

As such, the person may be fined to up to $10,000 or imprisoned for a period of not more than 6 months or both (first offence).

Second offences may be fined to up to $20,000 or imprisoned for a period of not more than one year or both.

For further information and the latest developments, the public can go to the Ministry of Health’s website www.moh.gov.bn or call Health Advice Line 148 that operates 24-hours.

Source: Ministry of Health

Friday prayers
One of the concerns raised amidst the growing number of COVID-19 cases is going for Friday prayers.

Ministry of Religious Affairs Yang Berhormat Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Awang Badaruddin Pengarah Dato Paduka Hj Awang Othman said that in spite of it, Friday prayers must be performed as it is part of our Fardhu Ain (religious obligation).

“Unless a person is experiencing Uzur Syarie, they are exempted from performing prayers.”

Uzur Syarie are conditions that can exempt Muslims from performing Friday prayers which in light of recent events, include situations that can bring harm to others.

The minister said such excuse can be used for the time being, until a further approach is available.

“This includes individuals who experience symptoms of COVID-19, have a fever or runny nose.”

YB Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Awang Badaruddin further added that those who are quarantined or isolated at National Isolation Centre are excused from performing the Friday prayer however they are obligated to perform the five daily prayers.

“We must abide by these orders and we must continuously read supplications (Doa), which will be touched in the Friday sermon.”


UNISSA Closure
Following the latest developments on COVID-19, the Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University (UNISSA) are taking precautionary measures to ensure the possibility of infection are controlled.

By doing so, UNISSA will be deferring lessons starting Saturday, March 14 until March 28.

In a press statement, the Islamic university stated that despite the closure, teaching and learning will continue through their Learning Management System (LMS) and other learning platforms.

Meanwhile, UNISSA is taking preventive measures by performing Sunat Hajat prayers, Doa Tolak Bala, postponing group activities, thorough cleaning of the campus, implementing temperature checks, providing hand sanitizers and face masks.

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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