BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Beds are filling up fast at the National Isolation Centre (NIC) in Tutong after the number of COVID-19 cases soared to a new daily high of 55 infections on Friday.

At the current growth rate of COVID-19 cases, all 296 beds at the NIC are expected to be occupied by Saturday.

The bed occupancy rate reached 90 percent at the NIC on Friday with 268 active cases.

Brunei has recorded 259 coronavirus cases since the second wave of infections began a week ago, a stark contrast to 138 cases detected in a span of two months during the first outbreak last year.

Higher numbers of unlinked cases have also been reported in the community over the past week compared to last year’s outbreak, which was brought under control in two months.

It is currently not known whether the highly transmissible Delta variant – the dominant strain worldwide — has fuelled the rise in cases as the health ministry is still awaiting genomic sequencing test results from overseas.

The cumulative number of confirmed COVID-19 cases stands at 598.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham pictured on Aug 11, 2021. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

To address the bed shortage, preparations are in full swing to set up a makeshift facility to accommodate asymptomatic patients and those with mild symptoms at the National Service Programme (PKBN) training camp, the health minister said in a press briefing on Friday.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said patients who are in a good condition will be transferred to the temporary treatment centre on the eighth day of their hospitalisation.

“This is to ensure the Tutong [hospital] is for moderate to serious cases with more doctors,” he said.

Two new clusters emerge

The minister said two new clusters have been identified and linked to Patients 451 (3 cases) and 477 (2 cases). There are currently 12 active COVID-19 clusters in Brunei.

Brunei’s largest active COVID-19 cluster — Chung Hua Middle School Kuala Belait – has now grown to 99 cases after reporting 16 new infections.

Three new cases were linked to the Department of Immigration and National Registration, bringing its total to 10.

Any individuals who developed symptoms after visiting the immigration service counters at Bandar Seri Begawan from August 2-9 are advised to get tested and seek treatment.

Cluster 499 added three more cases, taking its total to six.

The Authority for Building Control and Construction Industry (ABCi) cluster and oil firm TOTAL cluster recorded two new cases each, raising its total to 14 and 18, respectively.

One additional case has been connected to the Champion 7 oil field, which has a total of four infections thus far.

The source of infection for 22 of the new cases are still being investigated, while one new case is imported from the United Kingdom.

Two patients remain in critical condition and another two are under close observation.

An elderly woman makes her way to the vaccination centre at PIHM Hospital in Temburong after authorities issued a strict mask mandate as Brunei battles a second wave of COVID-19. Photo: Rasidah Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Belait district accounted for the majority of active COVID-19 cases (56.7%), according to BruHealth data on Friday.

Over 6,000 close contacts of confirmed cases have been placed under quarantine.

As more COVID-19 tests have been administered over the past week, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham called on the public to stay patient while waiting for their test results and refrain from visiting the virology laboratory, which is restricted to authorised personnel only.

Outbound travellers are advised to retake the coronavirus test if they have yet to receive their results three days before boarding their flight. The repeat test will not incur additional charges.

Strict enforcement of mask mandate

Responding to a question whether anyone has been caught flouting mask rules, the minister said police will be “stricter” in enforcing the mask mandate from Saturday.

The government imposed the mask mandate last week after the first local coronavirus cases were detected in 15 months.

The directive applies to all residents regardless of vaccination status.

Individuals who failed to wear protective masks will be issued with a $100 compound fine under the Infectious Diseases Act.