It was just in mid March when the Vietnamese capital city of Hanoi reopened its popular walking streets, entertainment centers and historical sites after weeks of strict movement restrictions imposed by authorities following the coronavirus outbreak that began on January 28.
Now, with another outbreak threatening safety and inducing panic anew, “Sorry, We’re Closed” signs on many establishments in Hanoi, as well as in several other towns and cities affected by the outbreak, have been turned over yet again.
In a conference yesterday, Minister-Chairman of Government Office Tran Van Son said the government’s most important tasks right now are radically curb the spread of local infections, protect people’s safety and well-being, strive to sustain economic gains and boost economic recovery.
The country has already imposed strict border control as neighboring Cambodia and Thailand battle worsening COVID-19 situations within their territories.
In a move that may wreak havoc among Vietnamese returnees and foreign experts coming into Vietnam, officials extended mandatory quarantines to three weeks from 14 days.
Visitors from abroad and those who have been in close contact with virus patients are required to spend 21 days in official quarantine centers, according to a post on the government website. Authorities will also go district by district, house to house, and visit companies hosting overseas workers to contain the spread of infections. Even after the 21-day quarantine, close supervision must be done for the next seven days at home.
The emergence of new local cases has been traced to overseas travelers.
Authorities are also investigating cases including that of an Indian national who was admitted to a hospital in Hanoi on May 3, and tested positive for COVID-19 earlier on Tuesday. He had just completed the required 14-day quarantine when he arrived in Vietnam on April 17. He previously tested negative twice after the quarantine.
Ho Chi Minh City has also increased the number of COVID-19 tests for people arriving from abroad from three to four. Foreign visitors will be tested on the first, fifth, 10th and 14th days, said Nguyen Tan Bin, director of the city’s Department of Health.
As of this writing, Vietnam already tallied 3,030 coronavirus infections.
Bracing for the worst
The new outbreak may become Vietnam’s worst yet, as government officials brace for 30,000 local cases. Authorities, however, clarified that the figure is meant for preparation, not a forecast.
“The virus situation currently is very worrisome with multiple risk factors from people entering Vietnam legally, illegally and locals letting the guard down,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in apost. Three patients in Vinh Phuc were found to be carrying a virus variant first detected in India, the health ministry had said.
There had been reports that many places across the country have stopped strictly implementing quarantine rules, which fueled the recent spike in cases.
The first local case recorded on April 29, after 35 clean days, came on the same day the World Health Organization warned Vietnam to remain alert and not let its guard down.
"The risk of case introduction to Vietnam including onward community transmission is high especially if cases among the illegal incoming travelers go undetected," WHO representative in Vietnam Kidong Park said, noting that Cambodia’s rising cases may spillover into Vietnam, especially as the two countries share land and sea borders.
Park added that though Vietnam’s pandemic strategy has been proven successful, the recent surges in countries such as India show that the crisis can worsen anytime, in any place.
The latest wave has already seen 64 cases so far in 10 localities, including Ho Chi Minh City, Hung Yen, Quang Nam, Dong Nai, Hai Duong and Danang.
People have been asked to continue wearing masks and maintain a safe distance from each other in public places.
Hanoi’s schools have been shut again, forcing students and teachers to return to virtual classrooms. Affected localities also ordered cinemas, gyms and spas to temporarily roll their shutters down.
However, another threat looms.
Vietnam has just ended a four-day holiday, which started on April 30 for the Reunification Day celebration. Resort towns like Vung Tau and Nha Trang were packed with holidaymakers who had seemingly shrugged off a serious health threat. Thousands of families with small children and seniors, who are the most vulnerable to contracting the virus, were seen enjoying the beaches and flocking in night markets.
“Looking at these packed crowds, I’m honestly fearful of bad news of community transmission - an explosion similar to that of the Cambodia incident,” posted Twitter user @SanoRay2.
“Fingers crossed for the next few weeks,” tweeted another.
While Vietnam’s COVID-19 figures remain significantly lower compared to other countries in Asia and beyond, the new outbreak is likely to further delay tourism recovery and may dampen an improving economy.
Before the new community cases were discovered, Vietnam saw its trade hit a 10-year high of $206.51 billion, a year-on-year increase of 29.5% for the first four months of the year.
Of the figure, export value rose by 28.3% to US$103.9 billion while import turnover soared by 30.8% to US$102.6 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of US$1.29 billion, the General Statistics Office reported.
Total retail sales of goods and services recorded a two-digit growth of 10% to reach nearly VND1.7 quadrillion (US$73.5 billion). The index of industrial production, meanwhile, was estimated to rise by 24.1%, driven by the expansion of manufacturing and processing.
Vietnam was also able to overtake China as the US’ main furniture exporter, shipping over $7.4 billion in furniture to the United States.
But as local infections mar the entry of May, the government urges swift measures to accelerate investments and speed up major projects. It’s also working on removing barriers in terms of legal institutions, mechanisms, and policies so as to release resources for development and keep the inflation under control.