BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The health ministry Thursday confirmed the deaths of two COVID-19 patients and the presence of the fast-spreading Delta variant in Brunei amid soaring community cases over the past two weeks.

A 51-year-old man, known as Case 869, became the seventh person to succumb to the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

Brunei has reported four coronavirus fatalities in just three days this week.

In a press briefing, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said another COVID-19 patient – a 52-year-old man identified as Case 2197 had died of haemorrhagic stroke and is not classified as a coronavirus-related death.

The ministry also detected 106 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, raising the cumulative number of infections to 2,265.

Two new clusters were linked to Patient 1888 and Case 2085, while 42 of the new infections were linked to 13 existing active clusters.

The ministry has yet to determine the source of infection for 47 new cases.

Forty-one people have recovered in the past 24 hours, and 35 people are in the Intensive Care Unit.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said majority (70.6 percent) of the 1,678 active cases are asymptomatic and another 17.7 percent of COVID-19 patients developed mild symptoms.

Severely and critically ill patients account for 5.1 percent and 0.8 percent of the active cases, respectively.

A pregnant woman about to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Photo: Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

Eight pregnant women among active cases

The minister said eight pregnant women are receiving treatment at the National Isolation Centre, including one who gave birth to a baby boy through caesarian section.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham urged all pregnant women to get vaccinated as they are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Nearly 75 percent of the 2,270 pregnant women registered at government maternal health clinics have taken the COVID-19 jab so far, according to the health ministry’s data.

In response to a question on the safety of Brunei’s Moderna vaccines following reports of possible contamination in Japan, the minister said the country’s shipment of Moderna doses are not affected.

Quoting a Moderna spokesperson, Reuters reported that the affected batches were meant for distribution in Japan only.

To date, 45.2 percent of the Brunei population have received at least one vaccine dose.

Some 17.7 percent of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Delta variant reaches Brunei

After over two weeks of waiting, the health ministry confirmed that an overseas lab had detected the Delta variant in all 20 samples of local coronavirus cases that were sent for genome sequencing.

The Delta variant, which has been driving the surge in cases across the world, is more than twice as infectious as previous strains.

Following the discovery of the Delta variant in Brunei, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham called on the public not to panic and continue practising COVID-19 guidelines to curb its spread.

“Whatever guidelines that have been released must be followed, especially staying at home because we are in a semi-lockdown. The more people stay at home, the better. And of course, vaccination is an important part,” he added.

The government Wednesday received a genome sequencing machine donated from Chinese investment firm IDG Capital, which will allow Brunei’s labs to identify different variants of viruses.

A lab worker at the temporary COVID-19 AirLab at BRIDEX. The facility was set up to ramp up Brunei’s testing capacity amid a second wave of coronavirus infections. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

MoH authorises use of four self-test kits

The health ministry has also authorised the use of four antigen rapid test (ART) kits in the market.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham encouraged pharmacies, clinics and other retailers to import the approved test kits as the ministry currently does not have enough stock that can be distributed to the public.

Antigen rapid tests usually take 10-15 minutes to detect an active COVID-19 infection, but is not as sensitive as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

Those who test positive after using the ART self-test kit should isolate themselves and proceed to a swab centre for further testing, the minister said.