Minister of Health, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham Haji Jaafar during a press conference at the Ministry of Health. Image: Faza Suraj

For the first time since the COVID-19 virus entered our shores, the sultanate today saw no new cases, leading the national tally of coronavirus infections to remain at 135, announced the Ministry of Health.

Despite this new development, Health Minister Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar gave a stern reminder to the public that “we are still in the midst of a crisis” and that the sultanate is still under threat from the influx of COVID-19 infections outside of Brunei.

“The spread of the COVID-19 infection has not ended and we must continue to abide by all the precautionary measures in order to further reduce the risk of spreading the infection,” he said during a press conference at the ministry.

“We must keep in mind that the risk of transmission is still present even though it is under control. If we are complacent, the situation can change in the blink of an eye and unwanted events such as lockdown may occur,” he added.

A woman seen wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure from contracting coronavirus. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

The minister went on to acknowledge the time gap between the first confirmed case in Brunei and when the country initiated a travel ban on March 20, adding that the eleven-day window could potentially spell bad news.

“In that time, people are going in and out. From our data we understand that 50 percent of the confirmed cases are asymptomatic, this is a very serious concern, which is why we haven’t lifted any of the restrictions,” he continued.

“We admit there is that window, and we are not sure of the situation with our neighbouring countries, whether they have experienced a community spread or not.

“As I have mentioned, we must go through 28 days without any new cases, and this is just day one, so we must stay vigilant,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham.

Source: Ministry of Health

Seven new recoveries

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham also announced seven new individuals who have recovered from the COVID-19 virus, which brings the total number of people recovered to 73.

This means there are 61 cases that are still being treated at the National Isolation Centre. Of these, three (3) cases are still in critical condition and require respiratory assistance, where one of them still requires heart/lung machine (ECMO) assistance.

As of today, 2,065 individuals have completed their quarantine in accordance to the Infectious Disease Act (Chapter 204) and only 280 individuals are still undergoing quarantine.

Members of the public practicing safe distancing while waiting to enter Standard Chartered Bank. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

The minister also revealed that 113 individuals have completed their self-isolation period in the isolation facilities provided by the government, bringing the total number to 326 individuals.

Since the emergence of COVID-19 in early January, a total of 8,129 laboratory tests for COVID-19 have been conducted.

For further information and latest developments, visit MoH’s website at www.moh.gov.bn or call its 24-hour Health Advice Line 148 or through the web platform healthinfo.gov.bn.

Alternatively, members of the public can also get the latest information on the COVID-19 situation in Brunei through the GOV.BN Official channel on Telegram at https://t.me/govbnofficial.

The state of face masks supply in the sultanate

Also present during the press conference was Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Minister of Finance and Economy II, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah.

During the press conference, he addressed concerns on whether the sultanate’s medical supplies set to be dispatched from China have been secured, considering the drastic measures that have been taken by other governments to acquire coronavirus supplies.

Currently as the coronavirus continue to spread throughout Europe and the United States of America, a worldwide bidding war for face masks and medical equipment has occurred, with countries going head-to-head to provide the necessary supplies for their front-line medical workers.

A man seen wearing a face mask during a press conference held by Ministry of Health recently. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

According to the minister, two shipments of medical supplies that were meant for Brunei have already been “hijacked” by other governments.

“Eventually on our third try, we made a strong effort to secure these supplies. With the help of certain authorities we were able to secure the volume of medical equipment that we need.

“Employees of our partners have also helped by sleeping at the factory, to prevent our supplies from being hijacked (for the third time). We have managed to to bring all of those back to Brunei,” he added.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin went on to say that with the global shortage of face masks, the government will not be imposing a ceiling price for the sale of face masks in Brunei, for fear it may lead to unfavourable results.

A staff of Royal Brunei Airlines seen wearing a face mask when at work and a van driver at the front of the vehicle is wearing a full PPE uniform during the transportation of students to self-isolation facilities. Image: Fazizul Haqimie

“Due to the high demand, the price of face masks inevitably becomes difficult to control. Speaking from Brunei’s perspective, we need to understand the global supply situation.

“If the prices are going up and we restrict the prices, it might potentially lead to the country not having any face masks at all. We are closely monitoring situation, in order to provide face masks for our frontliners,” he said.

In light of the global shortage, the minister said that the government has been in discussion with the relevant stakeholders on the feasibility of producing face masks in the sultanate.

“We have already secured quite a number of face masks, but we have to conserve them for the frontliners… We need to conserve as much as we can, because we do not know how long this COVID-19 will last or whether there will be enough supplies out there,” he added.

The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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