BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei has set another weekly record of 12,464 new coronavirus cases, more than double the previous week’s tally as the Omicron variant continued to spread at an unprecedented pace.

The sultanate has detected 18,566 COVID-19 cases three weeks after the first local cases of Omicron were confirmed, making up 49 percent of the 37,798 cumulative confirmed infections.

Last week’s case count was also six times more than the peak of the Delta outbreak four months ago.

During the COVID press briefing on Monday, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the presence of BA.2 Omicron subvariant in Brunei has led to the surge in cases.

“It can’t be denied that it spreads quicker, but symptoms are mild for those who are vaccinated or boosted.

“However, we need to stress that it is still dangerous if you are unvaccinated, no matter the variant,” he added.

Graphic: Hazirah Zainuddin

Researchers in Denmark found that the BA.2 subvariant is about 1.5 times more infectious than BA.1 – the original Omicron strain.

In the World Health Organization’s COVID update last week, Brunei was listed as one of 10 countries where the BA.2 lineage is predominant.

While Omicron has contributed to a record spike in infections, it has not caused a significant rise in hospitalisations and deaths.

The health ministry Monday said 16,892 active cases were self-isolating at home, while 212 people were placed in isolation centres with a bed occupancy rate of nine percent.

Six COVID patients were reported to have died last week, but four of the deaths were either not attributed to the coronavirus or pending investigation.

The soaring case numbers also came at a time when positive antigen tests began to be included in the total COVID tally, allowing the government to identify positive cases at a quicker rate.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said the public will be able to report their positive antigen test results on the BruHealth mobile app “in the near future”.

Individuals undergoing quarantine will be given an antigen rapid test kit with a specific QR code, allowing BruHealth to identify the individual who performed the test.

Currently, members of the public can report their positive antigen tests on the health ministry website or send a message to 8333123 via WhatsApp.

Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Health advice line 148, Talian Darussalam 123 inundated with calls

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham acknowledged that the health advice line 148 and Talian Darussalam 123 call centre have been struggling to meet increasing demand as about 8,000 phone calls are received a day following the surge in COVID cases.

In response to a question on whether there are plans to improve the hotlines’ operations, the health minister said MoH is working with the Ministry of Transport and Infocommunications and E-Government National Centre to handle 1,500 calls a day.

He added that Comquest, the operator of Talian Darussalam, would be adding more phone lines from 90 to 150 to manage the high call volume.

InshaAllah, they can provide better services in the next 1-2 days,” the minister said.

Operating 24/7, both hotlines were expected to respond to any COVID-related queries.

MoH redefines Day 1 for positive cases, close contacts

The health ministry has revised the definition of Day 1 for positive cases and their close contacts.

Day 1 will start when a COVID case’s BruHealth code is changed to purple. For close contacts, Day 1 will begin when their BruHealth code turns red.

If a close contact tests positive while undergoing quarantine, their isolation period will be reset to Day 1 once their BruHealth code turns purple.

Primary close contacts are currently required to isolate for at least five days.

Individuals were also advised to be patient and continue to self-isolate if they are experiencing delays on changes in BruHealth colour codes.