BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – New coronavirus cases jumped to a record high of 326 on Saturday, with the death of another four COVID-19 patients weighing heavily on the country.
This is the third time in a week the sultanate reported more than 200 cases daily, after averaging 146 daily infections over the past week.
During a press briefing Saturday, the health minister said a large cluster of 173 people has been identified at the Al-Islah Rehabilitation Centre for drug offenders.
The cluster was discovered after an employee at the facility developed flu-like symptoms, subsequently testing positive for the coronavirus.
YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said nearly all of the inmates are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but it does not completely stop the transmission of the virus.
“We advised them to conduct regular antigen rapid tests for employees, but it’s unfortunate that it still happened,” he said, adding that it was easier for the virus to spread in a dormitory setting.
There are now 106 active clusters, with three new clusters identified on Saturday, including Al-Islah Rehabilitation Centre, Serambangun Industrial Park in Tutong and a household cluster.
Data from the health ministry last week showed that two vaccine shots reduced the risk of infection by 82.9 percent.
To date, 59.5 percent of Brunei’s population has received at least one vaccine dose while 38.3 percent of the population are fully vaccinated.
Four COVID-19 patients pass away
The health ministry also confirmed the deaths of four COVID-19 patients, with two classified as coronavirus-related fatalities.
Two victims — a 86-year-old woman and 36-year-old man — died of lung infections after contracting the coronavirus.
A 91-year-old man and 47-year-old man were said to be suffering from underlying health conditions and their deaths were not attributed to COVID-19.
Brunei’s COVID-19 death toll stands at 29, of which 26 have been recorded in the past two months.
Thirty-nine people are receiving treatment in the intensive care unit, including eight critically ill patients.
Fears grow over strain on healthcare system
Brunei has logged 5,947 cases in this second wave of infections, as the Delta variant continues to fuel the outbreak.
Rising infections are expected to further strain the healthcare system as the number of active cases crossed 2,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.
Beds may run out soon at five makeshift isolation facilities, which have a combined capacity of over 2,000.
The reproduction number (R) has also risen to 1.3 from 1.06 a week ago, meaning that one positive case is now spreading the infection to more than one person.
An R value below 1 suggests that the number of cases is shrinking, possibly allowing societies to open back up. An R value above 1 indicates that the number of cases is growing, perhaps necessitating renewed lockdowns or other measures.
Targeted mass testing to continue in coming days
The health ministry will extend its surveillance testing to other hotspots after hundreds of cases were detected from mass swabbing over the past week.
YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said testing sweeps found 81 cases in Rimba and 78 in the Delima/Serusop commercial area.
He added that most of the cases detected in the two densely populated areas were asymptomatic.
The minister also called on anyone who believed they have been exposed to a positive COVID-19 case to step forward and get tested, even though they have not been identified as a close contact.