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Sultan calls for transparency in COVID-19 updates, strategies

Azlan Othman

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam called on the Ministry of Education (MoE) to be transparent on the drop of school attendance during the Early Endemic Phase and asked the Ministry of Health (MoE) to revive and share information on COVID-19 clusters and make a thorough assessment on the provision of vaccines for children aged five to 11.

Delivering a titah chairing the COVID-19 Steering Committee Special Meeting at Istana Nurul Iman yesterday, His Majesty also called for improvement to the distribution of food rations to those under quarantine order.

The monarch said there were issues in schools where students tested positive for COVID-19 and continued to attend classes and infect teachers.

“If this were the scenario, how could the school ensure that no spread would occur on school grounds?

“In a press conference on March 4, the MoE said it had recorded a drop in student attendance on a daily basis but did not explain the reason behind the trend. The MoE only announced that online learning would be implemented from March 7, for the next two weeks.

“In my opinion, the reason for the drop in attendance among students was due to concerned parents, who did not want their children to go to school as they believe that there was an outbreak on school grounds. This is a matter that needs to be probed,” His Majesty said.

His Majesty said during the first wave, which hit the nation in March 2020, the number of new clusters were shared with the public.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam; His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office; and His Royal Highness Prince ‘Abdul Mateen during the meeting. PHOTO: INFOFOTO

“But when we moved to Early Endemic Phase, information on clusters is no longer shared. Is it a way of hiding information?

“If a new cluster is not known to the public, does it not pose a risk to those who unknowingly enter a cluster?” asked the monarch.

His Majesty added, “We are still recording positive cases from foreigners entering the country as well as local transmissions.

“It is important to see if the case number goes up or down and the reason for the trend. It is a crucial matter that needs to be discussed by this committee, instead of just recording or counting the number of infections. This means that research is vital. Once we have obtained results from the research, we can then path the next step.”

His Majesty also said, “The number of cases is now on the rise. What is the reason? Although our vaccination programme is seen as great, the number of positive cases continue to rise. What else do we need to do?

“Alhamdulillah, the nation has never declared a lockdown, unlike some other countries. Some of those countries have repeatedly taken the stance of first easing restrictions, then re-instating them.

“I would like to know what the committee thinks about such a strategy. Committee members, comprising Cabinet ministers, are obliged to always evaluate and carefully consider all aspects without hesitation, adhere to one opinion or one opinion alone, including not hastily imitating or using illogical approaches and beliefs.

“This is not the correct approach because it likens to throwing oneself into destruction, which is forbidden by our religion. In my view, in these worrying times, it is too soon to ease restrictions as well as ending the daily announcement on COVID-19 developments in the country.

“If there are no announcements, doesn’t it mean we are hiding information from the people who want to follow the developments and guidelines? As long as there are no effective alternatives to convey clearly the important information on the state of outbreak in the country, the daily press conference by the MoH is still the best platform to address the situation and reduce the impact that may arise from the committee possibly overlooking the direction in which to synchronised efforts on all levels.”

His Majesty also took note of the latest health protocols, which were issued and presented through a press conference on March 5. “It seems that it is still too long and may take some time to read and digest. Isn’t it better to summarise it to achieve the intended purpose, as has been done by other countries,” the monarch asked.

“Similarly, I do not understand why COVID-19 is described having no end, when in Islam, we believe that every disease has a cure and Allah the Almighty cures all diseases. So, the notion that COVID-19 will not end is incorrect, as if we are declaring to be ahead of Allah and denying His power,” the monarch added.

His Majesty continued, “Throughout history, there have been pandemics such as the Black Death in 1340 that once infected Southeast Asia and spread to Europe. At the end of the First World War in 1918, there was an outbreak of the Spanish flu. But all these pandemics ended. Why do we believe there is no end to COVID-19?

“Similarly, it is often heard that people are determined to fight COVID-19 and some even believe that humans are capable of winning the war on COVID-19.

“I am seeking for an explanation. Is such an assertion not against faith, because if the coronavirus was sent by Allah the Almighty as His army to teach mankind a lesson, are men capable of defeating Allah’s army? This is something for the committee to note, and not let us follow things that are contrary to faith”.

His Majesty said the MoH will soon administer vaccines to children aged five to 11.
“In my opinion, this matter should also be studied carefully before being implemented because for those who have been vaccinated, there will be a need to get the booster.

“Has this been studied in depth as news have recently spread that the European Union (EU) medical watchdog is still evaluating Pfizer boosters shots for children aged 12 to 15?”.

The monarch said, “The organisation’s stance is in line with reports that 547 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States and 12,304 deaths have been linked to vaccination. Although this number is considered small but the risk is still terrible, namely death”.

“Although Brunei Darussalam as of February 19, had administered 1,028,073 doses, according to the MoH, there had been no cases of cancer deaths or neurotoxicity directly linked to the administration of any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“However, the findings of the MoH were preliminary findings. We do not yet know if there are risks of long-term infection effects. As such, continued research and evaluation are needed, especially if it concerns children. “

Meanwhile, on the distribution of food rations to those who are in quarantine, the monarch called for it to be carried out smoothly.

“Now that the infection rate has drastically increased, is the distribution well managed? There are many in quarantine who have not received the ration or have waited a long time to receive it. Fortunately, there are sophisticated communication tools that allow them to connect with other members to ask for help or order food delivery.

“I would like to know how the committee is tackling this issue. I noted that efforts to address the problem of COVID-19 spread have been implemented by the government, especially since the establishment of this committee through discussions.

“However, with the increase in the number of positive cases as the country moves into this Early Endemic Phase, many members of the public seem to want the committee to take more effective actions to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“What is heard from the general public seems to be that the committee is too calm. Is the committee not aware of this view? This situation should best be addressed by being transparent, concise and easily understood by all levels of the society, to prevent the public from pointing fingers and reduce anxiety over the increasing alarming rate of infection,” His Majesty said.


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