The year that was

Azlan Othman & Fadil Yunus

As we bid adieu to 2020, Borneo Bulletin takes a look at some of the local stories that made headlines this year.

January 18, 2020: Judiciary couple Ramzidah binti Pehin Datu Kesuma Diraja Colonel (Rtd) Haji Abdul Rahman and Haji Nabil Daraina bin Pehin Udana Khatib Dato Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Haji Awang Badaruddin both received jail time in one of the most high-profile court cases in Brunei this year.

March 9, 2020: Brunei recorded its first COVID-19 case after a local male aged 53 with a history of travelling to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was tested positive for the virus.

March 16, 2020: Temburong Bridge opens following the closure of Brunei-Limbang border due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

March 18, 2020: Temporary closure of markets was announced and no dine-in available at eateries.

March 26, 2020: Introduction of a ‘Drive-through’ method for pension payments was introduced.

March 27, 2020: Brunei recorded the first COVID-19 fatality.

April 1, 2020: Deferment on principal repayments on loans for businesses and individuals affected in all sectors. Trade and payment transaction fees are also waived for companies in the tourism, eateries, air transport and imports of food and medicine sectors.

BND1,988,908.19 raised from the COVID-19 Relief Fund.

The Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas with the Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the background. PHOTO: ABDUL HAMID BIN HAJI ABDUL RAHMAN

April 6, 2020: The Ministry of Home Affairs announced that the Gerai Ramadhan will not be allowed and the government set up an e-commerce portal providing an alternative way for Ramadhan vendors to conduct business online.

April 13, 2020: 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 in a titah announced a special allowance for healthcare workers.

April 20, 2020: Annual fee waived for mobile phone subscribers.

May 10, 2020: The world’s first international hydrogen supply chain between Brunei and Japan reached a milestone after successfully extracting H2 from a liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) shipped from Brunei.

May 21, 2020: Ministry of Health (MoH) issues Raya guidelines and that open houses are not allowed. Primary and secondary schools, sixth-form centres, vocational schools and the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE), and private schools re-open for classroom learning in phases. The re-opening of international schools was subject to the dates set by their institutions.

May 29, 2020: Bruneians return to mosques for Friday prayers after two months, while continuing to observe social distancing and MoH guidelines. Brunei also announced that its citizens would not perform the annual Haj pilgrimage to Makkah this year for health concerns amid the pandemic.

June 1, 2020: Schools re-open after remaining shut for two months.

June 22, 2020: His Majesty consented to the collaboration of relevant ministries in developing a digitalised National Welfare System (SKN).

July 15, 2020: His Majesty named the Temburong Bridge after the monarch’s late father, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Muhammad Jamalul Alam, to mark His Majesty’s 74th birthday anniversary.

July 27, 2020: Schools under the Ministry of Education (MoE), Arabic schools under the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA), private schools as well as higher education institutions (HEIs) and Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) resume normal operation, under the fourth phase of the de-escalation plan.

September 6, 2020: Brunei Darussalam is in the top 50 globally in terms of the safest places to live during the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed a study by Deep Knowledge Group.

September 11, 2020: MoH released a reminder that all premises are required to display BruHealth QR code at entry points.

September 14, 2020: The Internal Security Department issued a Detention Order under Section 3(1)(a), of the Internal Security Act (Chapter 133) to seven locals for their involvement in a syndicate for forged Brunei Darussalam’s national Identification Card (IC).

September 16, 2020: The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) recorded the largest haul of drugs, money and properties with the confiscating of more than 19 kilogrammes of drugs believed to be Class ‘A’ drug, estimated to have a market value of BND3,700,000 during an operation dubbed ‘Musang King’.

September 30, 2020: Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications (MTIC) introduces foreign vehicle pass stickers.

October 1, 2020: The Exit and Entry Charges Order 2020 comes into effect. Brunei also won praise from international organisations for its ability to contain the virus. The Sultanate was one spot away from entering the global top 10 in terms of COVID-19 epidemic prevention measures, economic recovery and international cooperation, out of 108 countries surveyed by the Yicai Research Institute in China.

October 12, 2020: Two local suspects face the death penalty on the charge of murdering a 37-year-old Indonesian woman at a house in STKRJ Kampong Mumong, Jalan Derma Wangsa, Kuala Belait.

October 24, 2020: Al-Marhum His Royal Highness Prince Haji ‘Abdul ‘Azim passed away at the age of 38 and was laid to rest at the Royal Mausoleum in Bandar Seri Begawan.

Bruneians hoisted the national flag at half-mast and had a period of seven-day mourning.

December 16, 2020: The Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) investigated a robbery that allegedly took place at a goldsmith shop in Tanjung Bunut commercial area.

December 24, 2020: MoH examined the data and information on the current vaccine candidates and the government is actively identifying effective and safe vaccine candidates and is securing access to these vaccines.

Meanwhile, sports competitions in the country came to a standstill as indoor and outdoor sports complexes and facilities nationwide were ordered to close by the authorities to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The immediate closure on sports facilities prompted the postponement of ongoing competitions such as the Brunei Super League, National Basketball League and the National Badminton Team League Championship, while cycling with the Individual Time Trial (ITT) National Championship at the Bukit Shahbandar Recreational Park was cancelled.

In the regional circuit, Brunei enjoyed success in squash as national duo Abang Huzairie bin Abang Haji Ali and Abang Md Safwan bin Abang Kifrawi bagged bronze in the 6th Southeast Asia (SEA) Cup Squash Championships in Bangkok, Thailand on February 23.

The country has also been preparing its athletes for regional and international meets including the Johor Petanque Open 2020 at the Johor Baharu City Council (MBJB) Petanque Arena in Taman Tampoi Utama, Johor Bahru at the end of March but there has been no international meets for athletes since a travel ban was enforced to all citizens and permanent residents of Brunei Darussalam on March 15.

After months of closure, the easing of government measures saw the gradual re-opening of indoor and outdoor sports complexes and facilities, golf venues and gyms and fitness centres.

National cyclist Luqman Hadzid and rising star Azwar Hairolani posted podium finishes in the virtual Zwift competitions organised by Cycling Selangor.

Organised sporting competitions for recreation were allowed starting September 7.

However, competitions are not allowed meaning no winners are officially announced.

This enabled the hosting of the Brunei Half Marathon earlier this month as one of the country’s efforts to revive long distance running.

The country received further boost as six sports – badminton, squash, table tennis, tennis, sepak takraw and golf – were allowed to organise competitions starting September 28.