In response to COVID-19, several government ministries, departments and private agencies in Brunei Darussalam have introduced several measures, procedures and action to address the pandemic and to prevent it from infecting those who are vulnerable.
Since the announcement of the country’s first COVID-19 case in early March, the number of people being tested for COVID-19 kept increasing.
With many Bruneian students, workers and incoming travellers set for self-isolation, the capacity of the current National Virology Reference Laboratory in Kampong Sumbiling, Bandar Seri Begawan had its limitations. The centre needs to process samples to produce the daily results of those tested either positive or negative.
To meet the large capacity with the increasing needs of COVID-19 laboratory tests, an additional building located next to the National Virology Reference Laboratory began construction on March 17. The auxiliary National Virology Reference Laboratory was successfully completed on time, with the building having started its operation on April 1.
His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam announced the construction of the additional laboratory in a titah broadcast live over national radio and television.
Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar, in a previous press conference, said the construction of the additional laboratory was in cooperation between the Ministry of Health (MoH) and Ministry of Development (MoD). The project was handled by local contractor LSL Sdn Bhd in collaboration with Beijing Genomic Institution.
During a handover ceremony for donations to the MoH on April 2, LSL Sdn Bhd waived the construction cost of the lab, totalling BND569,348, along with Trane Aire Sdn Bhd, Daya Engineering Sdn Bhd, Amberhigh Sdn Bhd, Beaver Engineering Sdn Bhd, KhaArkitek, Swee Sdn Bhd, Petar Perunding Sdn Bhd, Supinda Electronic & Trading Company, Razaco Transport Services and Gaya Reka Sdn Bhd.
The additional laboratory was expected to be completed within two weeks to meet the needs for laboratory tests, particularly for COVID-19.
In an interview with the Bulletin, Head of National Virology Reference Laboratory Dr Zainun binti Zaini said the virology laboratory will be used as a Diagnostic Molecular Unit for respiratory viral infections and specifically for the COVID-19 analysis test.
The laboratory has four labs, including sample acceptance laboratory, sample processing laboratory, a reagent preparation laboratory and an amplification laboratory.
With this new building, all molecular COVID-19 will be transferred to the lab and will enable the increase in test capacity. The building is also equipped with features to safeguard and ensure the safety and well-being of officers and staff on duty at the laboratory. It was also shared that the facility will be using the Real Time Thermal Cyclers.
In addition, the MoH has obtained safety equipment for the use of staff while handling patient samples suspected to be infected with COVID-19, ensuring the machinery and equipment are ready to carry out the test in tracing COVID-19, strengthening the Molecular Laboratory Unit works and policy as well as standard operating procedure of packaging and delivering samples. Currently, there are seven National Virology Reference Laboratory technical staff equipped with the training and competencies to conduct tests in tracing the virus.
The government, especially the MoH, has made early preparations including providing additional isolation and quarantine centres aside from the one at the National Isolation Centre.
This is the first situation that has ever been encountered by the country with an infectious disease on such a large scale. To combat the pandemic, MoH has strived to increase the capacity of its medical staff as well as increase its testing capacity. The additional virology laboratory was constructed with the hope to increase the country’s capacity by tenfold to meet testing needs.
Since early January, the ministry has made several preparations to encounter, manage and coordinate the situation as well as conduct various diagnostic tests.
Communications and discussions have been carried out with several agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO) and other reference laboratory in countries in the region.
With support and assistance from various government and private sectors, the additional virology laboratory was successfully completed on time.