The further you are, the safer it is

Hakim Hayat

While it seems that Brunei is starting to see the light of day with lower or even no new COVID-19 cases the past week since the pandemic was first detected on March 9, some might breathe a sigh of relief, thinking our dark days will be over and that the country will soon return to normalcy.

Gathering and travel restrictions along with the closure of mosques, businesses and schools as well as social and physical distancing measures imposed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) are some of the things that people in the Sultanate needed to drastically adjust to since a month ago to ‘flatten the curve’ and contain the deadly virus from further spreading within the community.

These measures, while drastic, proved to work for Brunei, a big contrast to some of its friendly neighbours which report a spike in new cases every day.

But this is not the occasion to be complacent or to celebrate early, as the threat is still imminent.

While the populace is urged to stay at home, avoid crowded places and mass gatherings, the majority of people are observed listening to the government’s advice, as many of the country’s commercial spots are visibly quiet, with shops closing early to avoid the risk of transmission.

Gadong Night Market. PHOTO: BAHYIAH BAKIR

However, since the first announcement of no new COVID-19 case on April 6, some have sounded the alarm that some places, such as the Gadong Night Market, a popular destination for food hunters seeing more crowds.

Muhammad Izzi bin Haji Nadim, a 23-year-old undergraduate student in the Sultanate, said he is surprised to see some people not practicing the government’s advice.

“They can be seen out and about with their families crowding malls, markets and other public premises; a potential cluster in the making, if this keeps up,” he told the Bulletin.

Another to comment was Zaitun binti Ambran, a mother of two who works in the government sector.

“Personally I feel people are following the advice. Although at certain times, it can’t be avoided, like payday,” she said, adding that this is the time when people go out and restock.

“I have kids who work in shops at malls and even they confirm that it’s been quiet since the news broke.”

The 34-year-old said as soon as it was announced the country had zero new cases, she noticed more people started going to the market. “Again, we are a population of around 450,000. It didn’t get to the point of traffic but I guess people felt a bit more comfortable to be going out, albeit to get food.”

She said it is not wrong to go out as it can be stressful being cooped up at home.

She said families should not go out in large groups when grocery shopping or buying food. Only the head or just one member of the family should go out to minimise the risk of contracting the virus.

Otherwise she feels that Bruneians are overall doing an amazing job and listening to the advice given.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar announced last Sunday that a recovered COVID-19 patient was retested positive again after showing symptoms during the self-isolation at home period.

“That is why we have to be careful before we change or lift any restrictions. As I keep saying, this is a novel virus and while the public may be excited to note the constant zero new cases we are experiencing, there are still a lot of things that need to be learnt about the virus,” the minister said. This includes how the virus acts in the long and short terms.

“Indeed, people see that we have flattened the curve as there are no new cases, and are asking what else we are waiting for. There are many things to wait for and this is one of them. There are a lot of precautions that still need to be taken,” the minister said.

The MoH emphasised to the public that the crisis is still far from over, despite the spread COVID-19 in the country being under control. “We cannot be complacent and should continue to take preventive measures.”

Businesses and small retail outlets should implement measures such as body temperature screening and provide hand sanitisers, as well as limit the number of customers at a time, putting up measures or signs for social distancing, ensuring the cleanliness of the trolley carts and baskets.

Business owners are advised to provide an alternative method of sales in order to reduce contact and overcrowding such as drive-through service, delivery service, and self-pickup service.

Accordingly, the public is advised to practice social and physical distancing while going to shopping centres, markets, small retail stores and any public places. Do not spend too much time making purchases and avoid going into crowded places.

For those at risk such as the elderly should take extra precautions and if possible, purchases of daily necessities to be bought by low-risk family members.

The public is also urged to prioritise the use of online services of governmental or banking matters offered.