BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s daily coronavirus cases hit another record high of 190 infections on Thursday, raising the overall tally to 1,136.

The health ministry attributed the high case count to tests results backlog as 2,280 swab samples were sent to Singapore for processing due to Brunei’s limited testing capacity.

During a press briefing, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said 40 new cases were detected in the past 24 hours, while the remaining 150 infections were confirmed from a backlog of tests.

Grappling with its worst outbreak so far, Brunei’s number of COVID-19 cases could grow further in the coming days as it ramps up testing with the setting up of a 24-hour mobile virology lab that can process 5,000 tests a day.

Brunei’s mobile inflatable COVID-19 testing laboratory can process 5,000 tests a day at BRIDEX. Photo: Courtesy of Sparks Co

Since the second wave began less than two weeks ago, the sultanate has reported 797 COVID-19 infections, making up 70 percent of the cumulative confirmed cases.

The steep rise in cases has resulted in some COVID-19 patients unable to receive immediate treatment as all 296 beds at the National Isolation Centre (NIC) are occupied.

Asked whether coronavirus patients are still facing delays getting admitted to the NIC, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said his ministry needs to “strategise” and prioritise cases with severe symptoms as it is handling a rising caseload.

“Those who are well or with mild symptoms can wait at home first while preparations at Mahad [Islam Brunei] are being done. So maybe with these 190 [new] cases, there’s a delay for a day or two,” he said.

The health ministry is in the process of turning Tutong’s Mahad Islam Brunei college into another temporary hospital for asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 cases.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said Mahad Islam Brunei has a 888-bed capacity but can only house 100 patients in its first phase of operations, which may start as early as Friday.

Some patients have also been relocated to a makeshift facility at the National Service Programme (PKBN) training camp, which can accommodate up to 700 patients.

Healthcare workers at the vaccination centre in PIHM Hospital, Temburong on August 11, 2021. Photo: Rasidah Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Vast majority of active cases unvaccinated

The minister said about 95 percent of the 790 active cases were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Among the 15 COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit, only one is double-jabbed.

Since Brunei began its vaccine rollout on April 3, 38.7 percent of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some 13.7 percent of Brunei residents are now fully vaccinated after completing their two-dose regimen.

Giving a breakdown of the new coronavirus cases, the minister said the Champion 7 oil field cluster has added 98 more infections.

The offshore oil and gas platform is the second largest active cluster with a total of 146 cases, behind the Chung Hua Middle School Kuala Belait cluster, which expanded its total to 173 after reporting six new cases.

Belait is the worst affected district, accounting for 59.7 percent of the active cases.

Three clusters — Brunei Shell Petroleum headquarters, energy solutions provider Aker and Al-Falah/Freda Radin schools — each recorded five new infections.

Both the Institute of Brunei Technical Education Kuala Belait campus and The Mall clusters registered four new cases, taking their respective total to 10 and 15.

Other new cases were linked to Cluster 477 (3 cases), Authority for Building Control and Construction Industry (2 cases), Dragon Boat rowing team (1 case) and Cluster 573 (1 case).

The ministry has also identified a new cluster linked to Case 583. This cluster has a total of six cases.

Fifty-one of the new cases are being investigated to find their source of infection.