The new Brunei COVID-19 AirLab may become a game changer.

As the epidemic situation worsens in the sultanate having hit more than a thousand positive cases and close to 200 new cases in a day, the mobile virology lab’s testing capacity of 5,000 tests could be the key in getting ahead of the second wave that is currently hitting Brunei.

Image courtesy of Ministry of Health, Brunei Darussalam

The Brunei COVID-19 AirLab located at the BRIDEX Hall in Jerudong was announced by the Minister of Health, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar during a press conference on Wednesday.

The lab, which has a Bilogical Seafty Level 2 is a collaborative effort between the government at Beijing Genomic Institution (BGI) and began operations on Thursday, 19th August 2021, according to the minister.

Image courtesy of Ministry of Health, Brunei Darussalam

He added that once the laboratory is in full operations and combined with the capacity of the ministry’s main virology laboratory in Jalan Sumbiling at the Capital, the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity will be increased to 8,000 to 10,000 tests per day.

YB Dato Dr Hj Md Isham shared that the new lab will spend the first few days of its operations catering to the “huge backlog” of COVID-19 tests, however once the backlog is cleared “we will able to see more up-to-date numbers and we will be able to report overnight figures”.

The testing capacity for the country prior to the establishment of the lab is at four or five days maximum. With the Brunei COVID-19 AirLab, COVID-19 test samples can be processed within 24 hours, leading to quicker identification of positive cases as well as paving a way for faster contact tracing and containment.

Image courtesy of Ministry of Health, Brunei Darussalam

Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister of Finance and Economy, Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew Abdullah said that 40 experts from BGI will lead the new virology lab and aid in the knowledge transfer of operations to some 30 local medical lab officers and 13 newly hired scientific officers.

“BGI is a company based in China. We came across this company a few years ago back in 2016 or 2017… They (BGI) were thinking of setting up operations here in Brunei however in the midst of trying to negotiation their presence here in the sultanate to serve the region COVID-19 happened last year,” YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Amin Liew explained.

Image courtesy of Ministry of Health, Brunei Darussalam

“(With their expertise) we saw the opportunity (to collaborate with them) and in fact that have actually helped us in many things including acquiring the necessary tools for COVID-19 like the test kit, which we had none, back then,” he added.

“Through our collaboration, we were able to secure many things quickly but the company is not only working with us in the region, although we were one of the first few countries in the region to do so, they have a presence in a number of countries here,” he continued.

An image of Bridex building in Jerudong where the new mobile virology lab dubbed the “Brunei COVID-19 AirLab” located inside the hall. Image :Yusri Adanan

The minister went on to say the decision to set up the Brunei COVID-19 AirLab, came with the urgency that the second wave of the coronavirus that has hit the sultanate swiftly in the past couple of weeks.

“But of course, it is a new lab and we also realise the need for experts (from BGI) but we have added a lot of local people to the operations to engage with these experts because the idea is for our people to learn from them,” he said.

This article was first published on 21 August 2021 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 155

THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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