BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will soon build a temporary hospital next to the National Isolation Centre (NIC) in Tutong as more than 20 patients are still at home waiting to receive hospital treatment due to a shortage of beds and manpower.

During the COVID-19 press briefing on Monday, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said a number of factors have led to delays of patients being admitted to the NIC, including limited bed capacity, staffing and transport issues.

He said the NIC currently prioritises hospitalising patients with severe symptoms, but hoped that the building of a makeshift healthcare facility would address the limited bed capacity.

“What we want is that once the person has tested positive, they can be admitted and monitored immediately.

“But because we are a bit stretched, it’ll take a while to [hospitalise patients]. InshaAllah, we can rectify this once we increase the capacity in two to three days,” he added.

The minister said the temporary treatment centre is expected to accommodate up to 800 people.

An extension building for the National Isolation Centre in Tutong was built in 2020. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases has put an unprecedented strain on Brunei’s healthcare system as the NIC reached its 296-bed capacity just one week after the first community coronavirus cases were detected in 15 months.

Dozens of asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 patients have been transferred to the National Service Programme (PKBN) training camp over the weekend to free up beds for new cases and those who require critical care at the NIC.

COVID-19 testing has also struggled to keep up with increasing demand as virology laboratories are experiencing backlogs in processing swab samples.

The ministry last week announced plans to build another virology lab that will boost Brunei’s testing capacity from over 2,000 to 8,000 tests a day.

Responding to a question on how is Brunei containing the second wave of infections thus far, the minister said the country has already moved from the containment stage to mitigation phase.

“If you stay at home, then we’ll do contact tracing as much as possible and increase the testing capacity. InshaAllah, we will be able to contain it,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said.

17 active clusters

There are now 451 active cases after the health ministry reported 64 more infections on Monday.

Two new clusters have emerged — Cluster 635 (2 new cases) and SKH Gadong cluster (2 new cases), bringing the total number of active clusters to 17.

The Chung Hua Middle School Kuala Belait and Semporna Enak clusters recorded 10 new infections each, taking their total to 142 and 30, respectively.

In addition, the Authority for Building Control and Construction Industry and Champion 7 oil field clusters each added four more cases, raising their respective total to 23 and 15.

The Brunei Shell Petroleum headquarters cluster grew to 12 infections after reporting three new cases.

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

Two infections were linked to the Al-Falah/Freda Radin schools cluster, which has a total of 16 cases.

Both Cluster 477 and the Institute of Brunei Technical Education Kuala Belait cluster reported one new case.

One case has been linked to Patient 573, while the source of infection for 24 of the new cases are unknown.

Two patients are critically ill and five people are now under observation. None of the Intensive Care Unit patients are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The national COVID-19 tally currently stands at 787.

Tens of millions set to be spent on COVID-19 fight

The government is projected to spend tens of millions of dollars to battle the latest coronavirus outbreak, but the second minister of finance and economy warned that expenses might further increase depending on how the COVID-19 situation unfolds.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said his ministry has yet to decide how the COVID-19 Relief Fund will be used.

“We’ll look at the things we need and how much we raised, then we’ll think about how to allocate it because we need to allocate expenditure that we can easily account for,” he said.

The COVID-19 Relief Fund collected $14.59 million in public donations last year. The majority of the money ($12.95 million) was spent on construction of the National Isolation Centre’s new wing.

Earlier this year, MoFE set aside $20 million to purchase COVID-19 vaccines in its fiscal budget.

Since the COVID-19 Relief Fund was reactivated last week, over $977,081 has been raised.

Screenshot shows the new Quarantine Order feature on the BruHealth app.

Digital quarantine order on BruHealth

The ministry said the BruHealth mobile app has been updated to issue digital quarantine orders to individuals who have been declared a close contact of an infected case.

Anyone detected to be within 10 metres for 30 minutes and above with a confirmed COVID-19 case will receive a digital quarantine order via BruHealth.

Individuals who received a digital quarantine order must undergo a 14-day isolation.

Notifications will also be sent to individuals who are required to take a COVID-19 swab test.

The public can contact the COVID-19 Operations Centre (Brunei Red Crescent) at 8260380 or Talian Darussalam 123 for enquiries on the digital quarantine order.