BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s COVID-19 death toll rose to 13 on Monday after a 44-year-old woman died of coronavirus complications.

The latest COVID-19 fatality was identified as Case 1521, who had developed a lung infection.

The health ministry also reported another daily spike in locally acquired coronavirus cases on Monday, rising to 135 infections from 110 a day earlier.

One new cluster has emerged at Rimba Point, with 45 cases linked to the shopping centre thus far.

During the COVID-19 press briefing, Health Minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohammad Isham Hj Jaafar said all the confirmed cases at Rimba Point were “staff and their related contacts so far”.

In a social media post, Rimba Point confirmed that it will be closed for two weeks for cleaning and disinfection while all tenants’ staff were asked to undergo COVID-19 testing.

Among the new cases on Monday, 35 were linked to 13 existing clusters.

The source of infection for 57 of the new cases are unknown.

Source: Ministry of Health, Our World in Data | Graphic: Dr Wee Chian Koh, CSPS

Brunei also recorded its highest number of daily COVID-19 recoveries after 263 people were discharged in the past 24 hours.

The number of active cases has dropped to 1,574 compared to 1,703 the day before.

Thirty-five people are in the Intensive Care Unit, including eight critically ill patients.

The minister further said 25 percent of the coronavirus cases in the current outbreak are aged 18 and below.

‘A few’ frontline workers test positive for COVID-19

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham confirmed that “a few” frontline workers have recently contracted the coronavirus following surveillance testing.

“We are investigating whether they were infected at the workplace or elsewhere, so it’s an ongoing investigation,” he said in response to a question whether any frontliners working at isolation facilities tested positive for COVID-19.

The government last month announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all frontline workers.

Asked to comment on studies that showed improved immunity when there is a delay in getting second vaccine doses, the minister said a few factors need to be taken into account when determining the interval between vaccine doses.

“One, access to the vaccine. Second, the level of community spread.

“In terms of our community spread, our R-naught was previously quite high ranging from 3 to 5 although it’s coming down, so we must balance the risk,” he added.

Source: Ministry of Health, Our World in Data | Graphic: Dr Wee Chian Koh, CSPS

He said it is safer for the public to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as possible, rather than wait for a longer time to increase the efficacy rate of vaccines.

“It’s better to get the second dose earlier, at least 4 weeks [after first dose], so that the earlier you get the full dose, the earlier you are protected,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham continued.

The minister said studies on the efficacy of longer gaps between vaccine doses were done before the highly contagious Delta variant took hold.

To date, a quarter of the population have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 after receiving two jabs.

However, the pace of vaccination has slowed in recent days as a vaccine shortage forced the health ministry to suspend first-dose vaccinations last week.

Sufri Bolkiah Secondary School to be converted into isolation centre

The minister said Sufri Bolkiah Secondary School in Tutong will be turned into another makeshift isolation facility.

Located 600 metres from the National Isolation Centre, the school will be the second temporary treatment centre in Tutong after Mahad Islam Brunei college.

YB Dato Hj Mohd Isham added that the third and final phase of the isolation centre at Mahad is expected to be ready by the end of this week.

All the makeshift isolation facilities, including the National Service Programme camp in Temburong, Royal Brunei Armed Forces’ Lumut camp and Belait Sixth Form Centre, can accommodate a combined 2,000 patients.

“We want to isolate the cases at these centres so that it is easier to monitor,” the minister added.

INNOVITA One Step Rapid Test is one of the nine COVID-19 antigen rapid test kits that has been authorised for use by Brunei’s Ministry of Health. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Nine antigen rapid test kits approved

The health ministry has authorised the sale of five additional antigen rapid test kits.

Last month, four self-test kits were approved as a quick screening tool for COVID-19.

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.