I fully agree with Worried Local’s concerns as detailed in a letter, ‘Stricter COVID-19 measures needed’, in the Bulletin on March 17.
In light of these new and highly contagious variants, the criteria for people entering the country should take into account where they are coming from, the strains that are circulating in that particular country, the number of cases in that country and the expertise or skill set that these people bring to Brunei.
I recently read that three people, who arrived from the Philippines on March 3, have now tested positive. Given that the country is battling a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases with many infections of the new variants fuelling spikes across the globe, I would think that anyone arriving from any country where the newly discovered Brazilian strain has been identified could pose an extremely high risk to Brunei.
Should this strain filter into the country, this could put the healthcare sector under immense pressure, as is happening in Brazil. And given that the vaccine rollout has not yet begun, the local population would be extremely vulnerable.
Although the authorities have done a commendable job thus far, I believe that we need a more dynamic approach in response to these new variants.
It was rather worrying to read about seven people who travelled from Singapore to Brunei on March 1 and had tested positive during hotel quarantine. Given the number of new coronavirus variants and how much easier transmission appears to be, I do hope that the authorities are carrying out thorough contact tracing and closely considering all avenues as to the source of infection.
There is a small chance that the aircrew, other passengers, hotel staff and drivers linked to that particular flight may have been exposed to the virus.
It may also be prudent to re-test travellers from low-risk countries, such as New Zealand and Singapore, who were either on the same flight, travelled on the same bus or stayed at the same hotel as the seven infected travellers. After all, these travellers would have completed a shorter quarantine period and their final COVID-19 test may not have reflected a positive result.
Genomic testing carried out in a number of countries has shown that hotel guests in quarantine can infect other guests and security guards while separated but occupying the same floor. Heavier viral loads were also detected in rooms occupied by multiple family members who were infected. Transmission occurred when doors were opened to collect meals and COVID-19 particles filtered out of rooms into corridors, putting other guests who opened their doors to collect meals at a heightened risk of exposure.
In all of this protocol, measures were in place and no breach had occurred; blue surgical masks worn by security guards were considered ineffective, due to not fully sealing the face and virus particles in the corridor were able to enter through unsealed masks.
Have the authorities considered the possibility that the travellers may have been infected by just one source, namely a frontline worker, such as a cabin crew member, a hotel security guard, a driver or a hotel worker, who was infected by a previous guest in quarantine? Regular testing of all frontline workers should be considered in order to reduce the risk and protect the wider community.
With a sharp increase in current COVID-19 infections, and new strains that are able to spread far more rapidly, along with novel ways in which the virus can transmit, the authorities would be wise to strengthen contact tracing measures currently in place.
A Concerned Resident