After six months of being one of the few countries without a COVID-19 related death, health officials in Vietnam reported the country’s first coronavirus death on July 31, a number that has since risen to 17. The grim update is the latest development in Vietnam’s efforts to keep COVID-19 at bay, following a fresh outbreak in the central city of Da Nang.
The Southeast Asian country currently has 880 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Next two weeks critical in heading off second wave of infections
On Wednesday, August 12, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that the next 10 days would be crucial in Vietnam’s fight against the coronavirus. Prior to the virus’s resurgence in Da Nang, the country had reported its last domestic case three months ago.
“Note that the period from this week to the middle of next week is critical,” said Phuc in a statement released by his office. “Which measures should we continue to implement to win against the virus? Which lessons have we learnt from this current outbreak?”
Vietnam’s tough approach to containing the virus – through aggressive testing, contact-tracing and quarantining measures – protected it from suffering a similar fate as those of its neighboring countries, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, which have a combined caseload of over 270,000 cases. The latter, in particular, has been struggling to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus as the number of new cases has been above 3,000 each day since July 30.
The health ministry said that most of the recent cases and all recorded deaths were linked to the new outbreak in Da Nang. But a new infection in the capital city Hanoi has officials concerned. The new case had no clear link to Da Nang and could complicate efforts to track and manage the outbreak.
PM: New outbreak can potentially lead to wider spread
In light of the new cases, Phuc warned that the possibility of a wider spread was “very high” and called for stricter containment measures.
Da Nang, the current epicenter of the outbreak, has enforced a city-wide lockdown after the outbreak was detected in July. In addition, local officials have converted a sports stadium in the city into a bivouac with a 1,000-bed field capacity. It started taking in its first COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, many from the three hospitals linked to the outbreak.
In his statement, Phuc also lauded the government’s approach to the current outbreak, saying that it was handled better than previous outbreaks. People have also reacted more calmly, even with the reemergence of the virus, he added.
Public health experts stressed that the latest outbreak in Da Nang could strain Vietnam’s healthcare system – something that the government already knows is a risk, explained Le Dang Doanh, a Hanoi-based economist.
“If medical staff are infected, the pandemic could paralyze the medical system,” he added.
It’s also the reason behind the country’s decision to close its borders and enforce drastic isolation and quarantine measures at the start of the pandemic. Currently, around 170,000 people are either isolated in hospitals or quarantined either at home or in centers. (Related: Vietnam imposes first mass quarantine outside of China, 10,000 residents on lockdown.)
Aside from Da Nang, the government has enforced a cordon sanitaire in three other regions. Meanwhile, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city have closed bars and suspended large gatherings. The country has said that they are looking to avoid nationwide lockdowns, targeting localized restrictions for identified hot spots.
“The government wants to control the pandemic but also avoid an economic backlash,” Doanh added. “The pandemic is a test for the state. During the first wave, Vietnam was quite successful. Now, it’s getting quite complicated.”
Pandemic.news has more on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.