BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei has set another record of daily COVID-19 cases with 54 new local infections on Wednesday, a 58 percent increase from the previous day.

During a press briefing, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said a new cluster of four cases has emerged at the Department of Immigration and National Registration.

The immigration cluster is linked to Patient 423, whose source of infection is unknown.

The ministry said the cluster might have originated from a COVID-19 positive person who visited the Bandar Seri Begawan and Kuala Belait branches of the Department of Immigration and National Registration on July 31.

Asked whether all immigration officers have received the COVID-19 jab, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said only 60 percent of frontline workers have been vaccinated thus far.

“We’ve been advising them to get vaccinated since April, but some are still stubborn,” he said, adding that the government has mandated all frontline workers to take the vaccine.

Anyone who went to both immigration offices’ service counters on July 31, or have developed symptoms, are advised to get tested and seek treatment.

Chung Hua Middle School Kuala Belait (CHMS KB) — the largest active cluster — has added another 25 cases, bringing its total to 62 infections.

Majority of the cases in the CHMS KB cluster were students.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

The Semporna Enak cluster has expanded to 17 infections after another eight cases were confirmed on Wednesday, including patrons of the eatery.

The ministry has also renamed the Al-Falah school cluster to Al-Falah-Freda Radin school cluster, which recorded three additional cases. A total of nine cases have been connected to this cluster.

One new case has been linked to the oil firm TOTAL cluster, raising the total to 14.

MoH is still investigating the source of infection for 13 of the new cases.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases stands at 494.

Nearly 5,000 close contacts have been identified from seven active clusters, according to data on the BruHealth mobile app.

Over half of beds occupied at NIC

Noting that there is a steep growth in the number of cases, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said more than 100 infections have been reported over the past four days compared to about 100 cases in two months last year.

A total of 155 cases have been confirmed since the start of Brunei’s second wave of infections five days ago.

Some 58 percent of the 296 beds are now occupied at the National Isolation Centre (NIC), prompting health authorities to prepare a makeshift facility for patients who are asymptomatic or developed mild symptoms.

The Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah Hospital in Tutong will also be used to treat COVID-19 patients once the NIC has reached its full capacity, the minister said.

A new extension for the National Isolation Centre was built in April 2020 to accommodate the growing number of COVID-19 patients. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Plans to set up another lab to boost testing capacity

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham further said his ministry plans to establish another virology lab that will boost Brunei’s COVID-19 testing capacity to 8,000 tests a day.

A new testing lab was built on Jln Sumbiling to increase the number of tests to over 2,000 a day during the first wave of infections in April last year, but the minister said it is not enough to cope with the surging number of cases.

“We are planning to set up another lab where it can do 5,000 [tests] a day. Hopefully with these two labs, we can do up to 8,000 tests per day,” he said.

Rapid testing is not only important to identify who has contracted the coronavirus but also speed up contact tracing to control the spread of COVID-19, he continued.

However, the minister said it will take time to set up a new lab due to the logistics of bringing in testing equipment.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, MoH said the swab test centre at Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha Hospital’s Sports Complex will extend its operating hours from 7am to 2am every day.

A lab technician demonstrates the extraction of virus genetic materials at the new virology lab on Jln Sumbiling. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

MoH to offer COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant women soon

The minister said preparations are under way to start vaccinating pregnant women, who are at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19.

“Because of the sudden increase in interest among pregnant mothers to get vaccinated, we’re planning to set up another [vaccination] centre soon,” he said, adding that breastfeeding mothers can get inoculated at the same location.

Pregnant women are advised to register with maternity clinics before getting their jabs.

The minister said individuals who are undergoing quarantine or self-isolation should not turn up for their vaccine appointment, but book a new slot via BruHealth or the 148 Health Advice Line.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham also announced the relocation of the vaccination centre at Tutong’s Pengiran Muda Mahkota Pengiran Muda Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah Hospital to Dewan Seri Kenangan from August 14.

Beginning August 12, the vaccination centre at Suri Seri Begawan Hospital in Belait will extend its operating hours from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Thursday and Saturday. The centre will also open on Sunday from 8am to 2pm.