BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Preliminary tests show five more people have tested positive for COVID-19, a day after the Ministry of Health (MoH) reported the country’s first case of coronavirus.

MoH said on Tuesday that the five new patients are individuals who had close contact with Patient 1, a 53-year-old man who recently returned from a mass religious gathering at Jamek Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

The new cases include his wife and two children, aged 12 and five, as well as an elderly male friend, 61, and his friend’s 30-year-old son.

All six people are currently under quarantine at the National Isolation Centre in Tutong and are reportedly in stable condition. Another 22 people who had contact with the first patient are also under quarantine.

“All five cases [of COVID-19] experienced mild signs of infection, such as cough and cold but are in stable condition, afebrile (not feverish) and do not need respiratory support,” said health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar.

He added that the children did not regularly attend school due to their special needs and had not been in the past week.

Confirmatory tests will be conducted on the group 24 hours after the preliminary test. Samples from the first patient have also been sent for further testing at the WHO Reference Laboratory in Singapore.

Source: Ministry of Health

How coronavirus spread from Patient 1

During the press conference, more details emerged about the 53-year-old man who first tested positive on March 9.

Patient 1 travelled to Kuala Lumpur with three friends on February 27 to attend a large gathering of more than 100 Tabligh – members of a religious movement that preaches a return to Islam as practiced during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

Some 90 Bruneians are believed to have attended the gathering, as well as people from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

Patient 1 and his friends returned to Brunei on March 3 via Miri, Sarawak on Air Asia flight AK5651. The group then crossed into Brunei at the Sg Tujoh checkpoint.

On March 6, the 53-year-old made a day trip to Miri and stopped by Kg Sg Teraban mosque for Friday prayers. One the same night, he began showing signs of infection and two days later went to RIPAS Hospital for treatment, where a nasopharyngeal swab was taken for the COVID-19 test.

Following a positive test result, the patient, who also has diabetes and cardiovascular disease, was immediately taken to the National Isolation Center in Tutong.

Since Feb 1, travelers entering Brunei via any of its seven border checkpoints have undegone temperature screening. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

‘No evidence of widespread transmission’

The health minister said they are tracing the source of the infection in Kuala Lumpur but that there is no evidence to suggest widespread community transmission in Brunei.

He urged the 90 Bruneians who attended the KL gathering to come forward as soon as possible, adding that authorities had managed to track down half of the group.

“Anyone in the group who is experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing should go to the Flu Centre at RIPAS Hospital immediately. There we have the coronavirus test kits and staff are equipped with the proper protections,” he said.

Healthcare workers face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, especially if patients do not declare their symptoms or travel history.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said the doctor who first treated Patient 1 had to be isolated following the patient’s positive test result because the latter did not make a full health declaration. 

The doctor later tested negative for COVID-19. 

MoH also warned that legal action can be taken against anyone who defies a Quarantine Order issued under the Infectious Disease Act. The order requires its subject to undergo mandatory isolation and health monitoring.

The Games Village Complex at Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium has been converted into a makeshift quarantine centre amid the global coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

MoH slams malicious rumours, privacy breach of patients

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said while it was likely the number of cases would increase, the public should not panic because there is no evidence of widespread community transmission.

“The situation is under control and we have nothing to hide. We will continue to update the public regularly,” he said.

The minister urged people to refrain from spreading content that is false and misleading and breaches the privacy of the patients.

“Since the news broke, people have been sharing the name and address of the first confirmed coronavirus patient. This stigmatises patients and their families and as Bruneians, especially Muslims, we need to be more compassionate.”

MoH said that the risk of transmission from transient or casual contact, such as a brief encounters in public vehicles, is low. Close contact is defined as people living in the same house as an infected person, or having been in an enclosed space within a distance of less than a metre for 30 minutes or more. 

Brunei has taken a number of precautionary measure to contain the spread of COVID-19, including banning the entry of travelers who have visited Iran, Italy and China’s Hubei, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in the past 14 days.

Bruneians who have recently visited these countries must also undergo self-isolation at home for two weeks.

The Ministry of Education also announced on Tuesday that it would move the school holidays to begin five days earlier on March 11, as a precaution against the coronavirus outbreak.

Members of the public who present flu-like symptoms or suspect they may have come in contact with an infected person are urged to go directly to the Flu Centre of RIPAS Hospital, located opposite the Accident & Emergency Department.

Health advice and enquiries on COVID-19 can  be directed to 2381383 or 2381380 (office hours) or the Darussalam Hotline 123 (outside office hours).