BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s second COVID-19 wave is showing no signs of abating as the health ministry Wednesday reported 176 new cases and a sixth person has died of coronavirus complications.

During his daily press briefing, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar announced the country’s sixth COVID-19 fatality, a 55-year-old man who had contracted lung infection.

The victim, identified as Case 656, was diagnosed with the coronavirus on August 15.

His death comes a day after Brunei confirmed its first two COVID-19 fatalities in over 14 months.

COVID-19 positive rate increases

Battling its worst COVID-19 outbreak yet, Brunei continued to report a high daily caseload despite clearing its backlog of swab samples two days ago.

The percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus grew to 4.8 percent on Wednesday, compared to 2.5 percent a day earlier.

The sultanate has registered 1,820 COVID-19 infections since the second wave began over two weeks ago, while the overall tally hit 2,159.

Health minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham during the COVID-19 press briefing. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said 88 of the new cases were linked to 18 active clusters, but did not provide a breakdown of the clusters. No new clusters were reported on Wednesday.

The ministry is still investigating the source of infection for the remaining 88 new cases.

There are 1,614 active cases in Brunei after 69 people made full recoveries from COVID-19, the highest in a day.

More people in ICU

Thirty-five people are receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), including a nine-year-old child.

The minister said the majority of ICU patients are unvaccinated adults, but infected children have started to show changes in their symptoms compared to cases in Brunei’s first COVID-19 outbreak last year.

“Children rarely have fever but they’re showing signs of changes in their chest X-ray. These [symptoms] are like the Delta variant,” he added.

More children have been infected with the highly contagious Delta variant across the world, including Australia and the US, while Indonesia reported a high child mortality rate due to the spread of the Delta strain.

Brunei has reported large active clusters at schools, including Chung Hua Middle School Kuala Belait and Al-Falah/Freda Radin.

A healthcare worker deposits a swab sample into a sealed envelope for COVID-19 testing at the drive-thru swab centre in BRIDEX. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

The ministry has yet to confirm whether the Delta variant is fuelling the rise in Brunei’s cases as it is still awaiting genome sequencing test results to detect the specific strain in the country.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham further said a technical committee will review the ministry’s COVID-19 treatment and management strategies amid soaring cases.

“We believe the virus is no longer viable in eight days,” he said, adding that studies have corroborated this finding.

“We might change our strategies in a day or two depending on the situation in our country. Hopefully, the public will be more confident in managing COVID cases at home,” he continued.

The minister previously said home isolation is being considered for asymptomatic and mild COVID-19 cases as beds are expected to run out at makeshift treatment centres due to the surge in infections.

Two new makeshift facilities in Belait

MoH has identified another two makeshift facilities in Belait to accommodate patients with mild symptoms.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the COVID-19 isolation centre in Lumut camp started operations on Tuesday night.

The Belait Sixth Form Centre will also be converted into a temporary healthcare facility and is expected to receive patients “in the next few days”.

Health authorities have already turned the National Service Programme training camp and Mahad Islam Brunei college into makeshift treatment facilities as all 296 beds are occupied at the National Isolation Centre.