BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Health authorities began relocating asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 cases to a makeshift facility at the National Service Programme (PKBN) training camp on Saturday after the National Isolation Centre (NIC) reached its full bed capacity.

The health ministry confirmed 42 new local COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of active cases to 307, which surpassed the 296-bed capacity at NIC.

Speaking during a press conference, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said COVID-19 patients are now classified into five categories based on the severity of their illness.

The categories will be used to determine which COVID-19 cases can be transferred to the temporary treatment centre at PKBN training camp, which can accommodate up to 700 patients.

He said 93 percent of the active COVID-19 cases belong to Categories 1 (asymptomatic) and 2 (mild symptoms without lung infection).

Five percent of the patients are grouped as moderate in Category 3, with signs of infection to the lungs.

Severely ill cases who require oxygen support and intubated patients in critical condition are classified as Categories 4 and 5, respectively.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Asked whether MoH has enough medical equipment to treat the rising number of COVID-19 patients, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the ministry is in the process of acquiring more medical monitors, oxygen cylinders and other devices.

With the sharp rise of cases putting a strain on the healthcare system, the minister said 16 medical volunteers have stepped forward to help, two days after he called on volunteers to join the fight against COVID-19.

The volunteers included eight private and retired nurses as well as seven private doctors and one retired doctor.

Students account for one-third of COVID-19 cases

Students aged under 18 make up one-third of the total active COVID-19 cases as three clusters were linked to schools over the past week, the minister said after the press briefing.

He said 89 students and 13 teachers have contracted the coronavirus in Brunei’s second wave of infections.

All schools were immediately shut after the first locally acquired COVID-19 cases were reported last week, breaking the 15-month streak of no community cases.

Two days after schools were ordered to close, the education ministry announced in a press statement that the September school holidays had been brought forward to August 11-17.

Chung Hua Middle School Kuala Belait is still the largest active cluster, adding three more cases on Saturday to its total of 102.

This file photo from June 2, 2020 shows students at Seri Mulia Sarjana School return to in-person learning after 11 weeks studying online. Photo: Yusri Adanan/The Scoop

New cluster at IBTE KB campus

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said one new cluster has been identified at Institute of Brunei Technical Education Kuala Belait (IBTE KB) campus, while Cluster 499 is now known as Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) headquarters cluster.

The BSP HQ cluster has four cases after one new infection was detected, while the IBTE KB cluster reported one new case, bringing its total to three.

Seven of the new cases were linked to the Department of Immigration and National Registration, taking its total to 17.

Three clusters — Authority for Building Control and Construction Industry, Champion 7 oil field and Case 477 – each registered four new cases, bringing their total to 18, 8 and 6, respectively.

Another three clusters — Semporna Enak workers’ quarters, oil firm TOTAL and Al-Falah/Freda Radin schools – recorded one new infection each.

Fifteen of the new cases are awaiting further investigation to determine the source of infection.

Two critically ill patients require ventilator support, while one is under close observation.

There are currently 13 active COVID-19 clusters.

The minister also confirmed that the Jerudong Park Medical Centre reported one COVID-19 case, which led to the closure and disinfection of the hospital on Friday night. However, the hospital’s emergency services are still open.

‘Too early’ to decide extension of COVID-19 restrictions

Responding to a question on whether the two-week COVID-19 curbs will be extended, YB Dato Dr Hj Isham said it is still early to decide.

“For this second wave [of infections], it’s only been around a week, so it’s still too early to assess the effectiveness of what we’ve done.

“Whether or not [the restrictions] will be prolonged depends on contact tracing and [growth] rate of cases in the coming few days,” he added.

Roads in Bandar Seri Begawan are almost deserted after the government imposed wide-scale movement restrictions to curb the spread of a new COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Rudolf Portillo

Brunei has reported 301 COVID-19 cases since the second outbreak began last week, bringing the cumulative tally to 640.

Data from the BruHealth app showed the coronavirus spreading to all four districts and the majority of infections (52.4%) were recorded in Belait.

About 4,000 people have also been issued quarantine orders. Anyone found violating the quarantine order is liable to a compound fine of up to $5,000.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said police will be monitoring those who have been placed under quarantine and conducting roadblocks to ensure members of the public are not going out without a valid reason.