BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The health minister Wednesday confirmed that the coronavirus has claimed two more lives, including a 25-year-old man who became the youngest COVID-19 fatality in Brunei.

The man, identified as Case 1888, died of a lung infection after testing positive for the coronavirus on August 24, YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said during a press briefing.

A 54-year-old woman known as Case 499 also died of COVID-19 complications after she was diagnosed with the virus on August 12.

Eleven people have succumbed to the coronavirus since the pandemic began, including eight deaths in the second COVID-19 wave.

The Ministry of Health reported 146 new locally transmitted coronavirus cases on Wednesday, a 105.6 percent jump from the previous day.

Brunei had reported declining new cases over the past two days before numbers surged again.

Addressing the rise in number of infections, YB Dato Hj Mohd Isham warned close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases to stay at home.

“If these people go out, COVID-19 will continue to spread and make it difficult for us to control [the outbreak],” he said, adding that 90 of the 146 new cases were individuals issued with quarantine orders.

“If they go out and about, we will mete out heavy penalties to make sure people understand,” he said.

The minister added that he will disclose the number of people who flouted the quarantine order “in the near future”.

Among the new cases on Wednesday, 43 were linked to seven of the existing active clusters.

Two new clusters were also identified and linked to Case 2632 and Case 2417 with 29 and 18 infections, respectively.

Some 87 people have made full recoveries from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recovered cases to 1,053.

Thirty people are receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit, including six critically ill patients.

The current number of active cases stands at 1,791, while the national COVID-19 tally reached 2,858.

A healthcare worker administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a senior citizen at the Indoor Stadium in April 2021. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

Brunei in talks with Singapore to secure more vaccines

YB Dato Hj Mohd Isham said the government is holding talks with Singapore to secure more COVID-19 vaccines through a swap deal.

This would mean that Brunei would accept delivery of vaccines intended for Singapore — where 78 percent of residents are already fully vaccinated — and replace them at a later date.

However, the minister said any agreement would need approval needed from the vaccine manufacturer: “There are a lot of legal matters involved, so it is not that easy to make an exchange.”

He did not disclose which vaccine type would be covered in a potential agreement.

A shortage of vaccines has forced Brunei’s government to temporarily suspend vaccinations for people awaiting their first dose.

When asked to comment on a potential swap with Brunei, the Singapore High Commission said its government is “strongly committed” to working with the sultanate on further vaccine cooperation after donating 100,000 doses of Moderna last month.

Singapore recently entered a swap agreement with Australia — which like Brunei is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases — with the city-state providing 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine before Australia returns the same number of doses in December.

Inoculation among elderly still low

The minister also called on the elderly to get vaccinated as there is still a low vaccine uptake among seniors.

Senior citizens were given priority when the vaccine rollout begun in April. To date, a total of 19,505 people or 43 percent of the elderly population have received at least one dose.

Those over 60 can still walk in to any vaccination site to get their first jab before vaccines run out.

As of August 31, over half of the Brunei population has received at least one vaccine dose.

Some 21.2 percent of residents are fully vaccinated after completing their two-shot regimen.

This article was updated on September 2 to include comment from the Singapore government.