Vietnam is battling its first COVID-19 outbreak for nearly two months, reporting at least 53 new cases on Friday evening. The new infections, which includes one in the capital Hanoi, are still being analyzed to determine whether they are of the new coronavirus variant.
As of Friday, the country’s total number of cases stands at 1,705 with 35 deaths.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son said that Vietnam will conduct mass testing for all healthcare workers across the country, with priorities on affected areas. Dozens of medical experts have already been dispatched to the outbreak areas for contact tracing and testing.
The latest outbreak has now spread over five areas – Hai Duong, Quang Ninh, Hanoi, Hai Phong and Bac Ninh. Hai Duong, the epicenter, recorded 77 cases so far.
Low-key Tet celebration
To contain the new outbreak, local authorities already announced suspension of year-end parties, large gatherings and all entertainment events lined up for Tet.
Son La province also decided to suspend the Vietnam Trail Marathon scheduled on Saturday in the highlands town of Moc Chau. At least 4,300 athletes registered for the event.
All cultural and sports events in Bac Giang have been similarly cancelled, and gatherings of more than 50 people are now banned.
Tet exhibitions and trade fairs in many other cities were also urgently called off.
Quảng Ninh Province has suspended interprovincial transportation and tourism operations, including cruises, hotels and restaurants until further notice. All flights and operations at Van Don International Airport are temporarily suspended.
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Field hospitals set up
Hai Duong was setting up three hospitals on Friday amidst the rising number of cases. The first hospital would be at the Chi Linh Town medical center, equipped with at least 200 beds, modern medical tools and an intensive care unit.
Forty-five doctors and 70 nurses have been sent to work there.
The other facilities will be located at the Hai Duong Medical Technical University and Hai Duong Sports Stadium. Medical equipment used during the July outbreak in Da Nang will be transported to Hai Duong.
Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said on Friday that more than 3,600 tests have been conducted so far, and that the outbreak is now under control in Hai Duong. He added that Vietnam has a testing capacity of 50,000 a day.
Most of the 2,340 workers at the factory where the outbreak started had tested negative for the virus.
“In a very short period of time, we’ve controlled the situation and I see a ray of hope,” Long said.
Chi Linh, which is home to 200,000 people and many industrial parks, has been locked down for 21 days.
Early on Friday, authorities in Hanoi imposed a lockdown at a 27-floor apartment building where one person tested positive. All the residents in the area were asked to remain inside their units.
Extended quarantine period
As a precaution, the prime minister announced that COVID-19 quarantine period involving the new outbreak will be increased to 21 days, from the usual 14 days.
The stricter measures were imposed as the government fears the new outbreak could bear the UK coronavirus variant, which is reported to be 40 to 70% more transmissible.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged calm and promised swift implementation of anti-virus measures including mass testing, strict rules on mask-wearing and possible halting of international flights.
State media on Friday reported a deputy police chief of Hanoi said the city has no shortage of policemen to help handle the outbreak, despite the ongoing party congress.