In just days, Vietnam shifts from virus-free paradise to panic

In just days, Vietnam shifts from virus-free paradise to panic

Medical specialists wearing protective suits collect blood sample from a woman who has returned after traveling to Da Nang, at a rapid testing center for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outside Hanoi, Vietnam July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Kham

By James Pearson (Reuters)

HANOI (Reuters) – There had been so few coronavirus cases in Vietnam that every patient was known by a number: Patient 17 brought the virus back from Europe after an initial wave of infections from Wuhan. Patient 91, a British pilot, almost died.

Now there is a new number that has become an unwelcome marker.

Patient 416, a 57-year-old man in the central city of Danang, tested positive for coronavirus last week after more than three (3) months without a new infection in the Southeast Asian country.

In just over a few days, a total of 47 people linked to Danang have tested positive, signaling the start of a third, untraceable and more concerning wave of infections in a country that had reopened faster than most of the world, confident it had beaten the disease.

The surge has spread to six cities and provinces in six days, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands.

Vietnam’s coastal city of Danang plans to test its entire population of 1.1 million people for coronavirus infection, the governing authorities said on Saturday, as 40 new cases linked to the tourist hot spot were reported across the country, taking total infections to 586, with three deaths.

Most of the new cases are linked to hospitals in Danang city, where the first locally transmitted infection in more than three months was detected last week.

The Health Ministry said on Saturday that up to 800,000 visitors to Danang have left for other parts of the country since July 1, adding that more than 41,000 people have visited three hospitals in the city since.

Local medical officials in Danang have conducted 8,247 coronavirus tests in the city since July 25, when the latest cluster was first detected. Testing capacity will be increased to 8,000-10,000 per day, the governing authorities said.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, slammed his fist on the table during a meeting on Wednesday in which he warned that the entire country was now at risk of infection.

“Everyone, including health workers, had let their guard down months before the reintroduction of the virus,” said Truong Huu Khanh, head of the infectious diseases department at the Nhi Dong I Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

Stopped wearing masks

“People had stopped wearing masks in public and some health workers didn’t pay enough attention to ‘high risk’ cases”.

So successful was its fight against COVID-19 that the post-pandemic “new normal” in Vietnam looked very much like the old one. Bars, restaurants and hotels had reopened with minimal social distancing measures in place. In early July, the number of domestic air passengers even rose by 27% compared to the previous year, according to state media.

But that oasis in a pandemic-stricken world began to disintegrate when Patient 416 went to a local hospital in Danang with a cough and fever. The last person to test positive for an infection in the community was a 16-year-old girl in April. Story and photo courtesy of Reuters

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