The public is cautiously optimistic following the re-opening of border for air travel to 11 Travel Green List countries which came into effect on April 1, while also expecting an uptick in trade.
However, the public is also bracing for a transitional period before a full resumption of activities as people will be wary in the beginning.
In an interview with the Bulletin, businessman Jeffrey Wong, a frequent commuter between Brunei and Sarawak before the pandemic, said after over two years of border closure, foreign workers can visit their families and settle their official matters. “For Sarawakians who wish to go to Miri by flying to Kuala Lumpur first, it is an expensive long journey. I’d rather wait another month or two for the land borders to re-open,” he said.
“The authorities can utilise the frequent shuttle bus system (just like the one between Singapore and Johor) for visits to Miri, Limbang and Lawas for at least two to three trips a day. Through this system, the crowd will be more manageable,” Jeffrey said.
“It will also contribute to economy. Bus services that had been badly affected by long border closure, could stage a recovery.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary General of National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Brunei Darussalam (NCCIBD) Haji Halim bin Saim reminded the travellers will need to adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs).
“Some may opt to cross the border to take advantage of the exchange rate to buy goods that are getting more expensive in the Sultanate.
“A satay seller told me that the price of beef has increased from BND12 to BND18 per kilogramme while the cost of peanut for the gravy has also increased. The cost of hiring foreign workers has gone up though some shops opt to close temporarily due to a labour shortage,” Haji Halim said.
Honorary Advisor of Demensia Brunei Datin Jacqueline Wong said, “Prior to COVID-19, I travelled frequently for work, special projects and conferences. With travel restrictions during the pandemic, it was a time for reflection and discovery that humans are resilient. While it certainly was trying and challenging, there were positives too. Together, we connected via every means using digital technology and have become even more effective, and efficient.
“For example, the savings on time taken for international travel, I was able to do more compared to when things were ‘normal’. Once, I was present in five countries in a day, starting with a ‘Meeting-of-the-Minds’ webinar in Australia; followed by a session with ASEAN; a dialogue with the IMF Asia Pacific Regional Director in South Korea; then participated in the IMF CSO Forum in Washington DC; and ended my day with a presentation in an International gerontology and geriatrics symposium in Argentina (invited by the Institute on Ageing – United Nations-Malta).
“The opening of borders and international travel is indeed a welcoming news. However, travel in the ‘new normal’, we must be prudent and mindful of our health, safety and security.”
Datin Wong also called on the public to be responsible travellers and avoid travel to highly-affected areas.
“For some travellers, in particular the elderly and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions, they should delay travel plans.
“One should also be mindful of personal hygiene and cough etiquette. Keeping a distance of at least one metre from the next person is particularly important for all travellers.
“These include performing hand hygiene frequently, cover nose and mouth with a flexed elbow, or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue (and perform hand hygiene), refrain from touching mouth and nose,” she said.
Datin Wong added, “In some countries, a medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms. However, in some cultures, mask is commonly worn. If masks are to be worn, it is crucial to follow best practices on how to wear, remove and dispose of them (and on hand hygiene after removal)”.
Meanwhile K Goh from SONAX Brunei said while the re-opening of borders is great, he expressed hope that the country and the Ministry of Health (MoH) will remain vigilant to protect the country.
“COVID-19 seems to be evolving. We have to accept its permanence but at the same time stay cautious to prevent another new wave,” he said.
He called the public to wear masks at all times and avoid joining unnecessary gatherings while being socially responsible.
“The last two years have been hard for most people, especially businesses. Our government, especially the MoH has worked hard to protect the people including implementing the national vaccination programme. We should do our part by ensuring protection through precautions,” he said.
Meanwhile, an Indonesian national working at a workshop hoped that Indonesia will be included in the Travel Green List soon.
“My father passed away this month and I could not attend his funeral. I have not seen my family back home in Indonesia for more than two years, since the border shut in March 2020.”