COVID-19 Op-ed

Communication: The Key to Effective Control of COVID-19 in Brunei Darussalam

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Dayangku Nurafiqah Fikriyah Binti Pengiran Muhammad Rafee
Exchange Student in International & Strategic Studies, Department of International & Strategic Studies
Faculty of Arts and Social Science, University Malaya
Student of English Studies, Department of English Studies
Faculty of Arts and Social Science, University Brunei Darussalam

On 9 March 2020, the small sultanate nation of Brunei Darussalam recorded its first case of COVID-19, where a local man with a travel history to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was tested positive for the contagious virus. Although active preventive and precautionary measures had taken place before, the government of Brunei continues to step up and show robust efforts and constant resilience in combating COVID-19 in the country. As of 11 May 2020, 141 COVID-19 cases were detected in Brunei resulting in 1 death, 134 recoveries and 6 cases still under treatment located at the National Isolation Center, Tutong. (Kon, 2020)

With that being said, as a country known for its close-knit community, access to reliable and accurate information is vital in order to maintain peace and encourage its citizens to cooperate with the government to fight this pandemic. Unfortunately, even Brunei is experiencing and are unable to escape the spread of fake news that tries to stir worries within itself. So how does the government of Brunei and its people tackle this global problem of misinformation and reduce widespread panic?

One of the highly impacted actions taken by the Ministry of Health (MoH), under His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah’s Government, was to conduct daily live press conferences to give updates regarding the situation and also for other ministries (e.g. Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Religious Affairs) to announce new changes and orders in the country. National television news (RTB Radio Television Brunei) and local independent newspapers (Borneo Bulletin, The Scoop, Media Permata) come together and brought voices of concerns from the people and get straight to the point answers from the ministers themselves.

In a nutshell, it can be agreed that the reason Brunei did not opt for chaotic lockdowns as seen in other Southeast Asian countries is that the Ministry of Health (MoH) has been very transparent and did not try to suppress or hide any news cases (Khan, 2020). The health minister also urged people to refrain from spreading content that is false and misleading and breaches the privacy of the patients (Bandial and Bakar, 2020.)  When the first Covid-19 case in Brunei occurred, they spared no detail in sharing the necessary information and facts to the people as shown in the excerpt from MoH’s heavily detailed press release below:

“The first case is a local male aged 53 years old. The patient travelled together with three of his friends to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and arrived back in Brunei on March 3, 2020. His symptoms began with feeling unwell with body ache, fever and cough on March 7, 2020 and he presented at the Emergency Department, Hospital Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha the next day. He was tested and found positive for COVID-19 and is currently receiving treatment at the National Isolation Centre, Tutong. The test result is currently undergoing additional verification in line with guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO). At present, the patient is currently in a stable condition. The Ministry of Health has responded immediately to detect and conduct contact tracing to all of the patient’s contact including family members and three (3) of his friends who was on the same trip as the patient. All close contacts are undergoing quarantine for 14 days. All contacts involved will also undergo laboratory tests to detect the COVID-19 infection… The Ministry of Health seeks the public cooperation to act responsibly and avoid spreading any information that is misleading and untrue, as well as to respect the privacy of the patient and his family members.” (Government of Brunei, Ministry of Health, 2020)

This type of media coverage that is more focused on facts has become relatively successful in ensuring the people have the real information about what’s going on. (Holmes, Henrich, Hancock, and Lestou, 2009) Other than press conferences and press releases, the Government of Brunei is also proactively spreading reliable information on its official websites and social media (Instagram, Twitter), where daily news and regulations for the new norm is posted and accessible to the public.

Such various means of communication and spread of information helps not only in thwarting the rise of fake news, but also to assure the people that the government is determined to fight this pandemic and in turn gain support from the public. Effective communication then shows that both the government and people of Brunei value credibility and seek hard facts, therefore ultimately avoid uncontrollable panic. There is still a long way to go for the country of Brunei Darussalam to completely eradicate Covid-19 and until then, we remain vigilant in becoming socially responsible together.

References:

Bandial, A. & Bakar, R. H. A. (2020, March 11). Five more test positive for COVID-19, bringing national tally to 6. The Scoop, p. 1. Retrieved from https://thescoop.co/2020/03/11/five-more-test-positive-for-covid-19-bringing-national-tally-to-6/

Government of Brunei, Ministry of Health. (2020, March 9). Detection of the First Case of Covid-19 Infection in Brunei Darussalam [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.moh.gov.bn/Shared%20Documents/2019%20ncov/press%20releases/FINAL%20Press%20Release%20(eng)%20-%20First%20Case%20COVID-19%20in%20Brunei%20Darussalam%20(2).pdf

Holmes, B. J., Henrich, N., Hancock, S., & Lestou, V. (2009) Communicating with the public during health crises: experts’ experiences and opinions, Journal of Risk Research, 12(06), 793-807, DOI: 10.1080/13669870802648486

Khan, A.U. (2020, April 18). Brunei’s Response To COVID-19. The ASEAN Post, p. 1. Retrieved from https://theaseanpost.com/article/bruneis-response-covid-19

Kon, J. (2020, May 12). COVID-19: Fourth day in a row with no new case. Borneo Bulletin, p. 1. Retrieved from https://borneobulletin.com.bn/covid-19-fourth-day-in-a-row-with-no-new-case/


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