Vietnam’s Virus Calm Shattered by Sudden Local Case Surge

After almost 100 days without a new local patient, Vietnamese had all but claimed victory over the novel coronavirus. They were packing beaches in Danang, hitting Ho Chi Minh City’s nightclubs and shedding masks. Now the masks are back on as the government scrambles to contain a sudden and unexpected flare-up in community infections after officials reported 15 new cases in three days from the central coast region.

The startling news, which began on Friday with a suspected case and carried over into the weekend with four new virus patients, underscored the unrelenting nature of the virus. Vietnam is joining a number of other regions, from South Korea to Germany, combating new clusters of unknown origins to head off raging outbreaks.

The Southeast Asian country is throwing every weapon in its arsenal at its effort to contain the new spread in Danang. Authorities announced 11 more cases Monday night, all of them tied to a Danang hospital where other cases have been treated. Four of the 11 are medical staff, while the rest are patients who have been treated at the hospital.

Vietnam’s first case since April 16 was perhaps the most unnerving: a 57-year-old grandfather who had been in Danang city for about a month and hadn’t traveled to other provinces. The latest wave triggered concerns among government officials that Vietnam, which has now reported 431 infections, may be vulnerable to imported virus cases from people crossing the border illegally into the country. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered tighter border and immigration controls and police have made a number of arrests of Vietnamese and Chinese charged with shepherding people into the country illegally.

Still, Vietnamese health officials, like their counterparts in other countries, are puzzling over where the new infections came from. Hong Kong, for instance, had enjoyed three months of normal life before a surprise July resurgence that could be its worst wave ever. Infections of unknown origins have surged to half of all new local cases.

So Vietnamese leaders are doing what has succeeded in the past: deploying swift and blunt lockdown-like actions to try to contain the virus.

Danang’s authorities shut down two hospitals where two victims visited and ordered their patients, medical staff, caregivers and family members — about 7,000 people in total — to be quarantined for 14 days, local media reported. A third city hospital was also locked down, VnExpress reported.

The city issued a stay-at-home order for six of eight districts for 15 days from Tuesday, the local government said on its website. Residents are prohibited from going out except for essential reasons, such as to buy food, medicines, for health emergencies or working at factories. Residents must keep a two-meter separation from each other. Non-essential services and shops are ordered closed and public transportation halted.

Furthermore, operations of private vehicles are being restricted and festivals, religious ceremonies and operations of beauty spas, bars, massage parlors and dancing halls are temporarily suspended. Meanwhile, some 80,000 travelers clamored to get out of the city as domestic airlines increased flights to ferry them home.

And in Hanoi, some 790 kilometers to the north of Danang, officials were re-issuing anti-virus mandates — including the wearing of masks in public areas.

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