Flash team battles novel coronavirus

By Phan Duong   March 31, 2020 | 07:07 pm PT
In Hanoi, a team of doctors, laboratory technicians and medical advisors remain primed to treat suspected Covid-19 patients.

At midnight on March 27, Dr Nguyen Hoang Hong was woken by a phone call. Ten minutes later, his "flash team" exited Cau Giay’s District Medical Center in an ambulance.

Their destination was the apartment of a 27-year-old woman experiencing fever and shortness of breath after several days’ attending her father in Bach Mai Hospital, a Covid-19 hotspot.

"We treated her as a Covid-19 suspect," said Hong, 30, deputy head of the center's Disease Control Department.

After several minutes, Hong and his teammates arrived in protective outfits and tried to comfort the anxious patient.

"Please stay calm, and do not worry because not everyone having contact with patients become infected," they told her.

The woman, responding to their advice, told them her recent travel history.

After listening, Hong looked at his colleagues and nodded his head. They understood it was a signal to implement testing. Nguyen Hai Linh, laboratory technician, used a swab to take some samples from the woman’s throat and sent it to Dong Da General Hospital.

Environmental officers Luu Danh Nhan then disinfected the 60-meter-square apartment. No one talked.

They finished their mission at 2 a.m., leaving the residential building in the dark and headed back to the medical center.

Hong (wearing protective clothes) and Linh (wearing his white uniform) in action at Trang An residential building on March 27. Photo by VnExpress/Danh Nhan.

Hong (wearing protective clothes) and Linh (wearing his white uniform) in action at Trang An residential building in Hanoi's Cau Giay district on March 27, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Danh Nhan.

Hong, Nhan, Linh, and some logistic staff are members of a quick reaction team managed by Cau Giay Medical Center. In Hanoi, 65 similar teams are working around the clock amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fives years working at Cau Giay Medical Center, Hong has a good understanding of the 285,000 residents living across 8 wards in the district. With many universities, Cau Giay has a dense population, posing numerous challenges in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Hong’s battle kicked off on the forth day of the Lunar New Year when a postgraduate student returning from Wuhan showed viral symptoms.

They started their mission at 3 p.m. that day by disinfecting his place on Tran Quy Kien Street, listing people he met, only to finish after midnight.

In February, Hong’s team kept a watchful eye on those returning from China, Korea, and Japan. In March, when the first Covid-19 patient was confirmed in Hanoi, they started screening all those returning from overseas.

Since March 26, they have had to check, take samples and isolate all patients in Hanoi’s Bach Mai Hospital, alongside those who had entered the facility.

"Previously, we fought the epidemic from the outside. It is more difficult now," Hong commented.

After only three hours sleep, his team arrived at Trung Hoa Ward on the early morning of March 27 to gather local epidemiological histories. They had lunch after 1 p.m. and finished the job at 8 p.m. Thanks to their determination, they located 55 residents who were treated at Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital and 310 others who had passed by the Covid-19 hotspot.

"I am tired but I cannot sleep," said the doctor.

Whenever he lies down, he thinks about those he talked to and their coming test results.

Hong remembered a ticket seller at a tourist attraction in Hanoi, having close contact with a British Covid-19 patient, could not recall his travel history because he was frightened. Hong spent two days talking with him and locating those he had come in close contact with.

When the test result returned negative, Hong could not be happier.

"He thanked me, but I am the one who should thank him. Thanks to that negative result, I have more motivation," the doctor noted.

Doctor Hong calls his wife, who sent him a basket of fruits on March 17. During the call, he told her he would not be home in the next two weeks and would spend all his energy on the Covid-19 battle. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Doctor Hong calls his wife. During the call, he told her he would not be home in the next two weeks and would spend all his energy on the Covid-19 battle. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Laboratory technician Nguyen Hai Linh, gathering numerous samples, always sweats inside his protective clothing. On March 27, he spent 12 hours taking samples from those arriving from abroad or related to Bach Mai Hospital.

Standing in layers of clothes, masks and glasses, he could feel his feet grow numb and a headache develop.

"Due to the lack of air and water, we look upset when we remove our masks," Linh said before having a drink.

In such close contact with suspected patients, Linh faces a high risk of infection.

"The safest way is standing diagonally across from the patient, taking their throat swabs first. Then they apply a mask to cover their mouths so I can take their nose swabs," said Linh, 28, boasting five years of experience. These days, he takes up to 50 samples daily.

Since March 6, he has stayed at the medical center to be ready whenever a new suspect is reported.

"Sometimes we finished our work after midnight, took a shower, had instant noodles, and passed out," he recalled.

As the pandemic worsens, Linh called his father two days ago to convince him, a taxi driver, to stop working and remain at home.

Linh after a working day. Photo bvy VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Linh after a working day. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

After 10 years working at Cau Giay Medical Center, Luu Danh Nhan has seldom had to work overtime until the Covid-19 pandemic. In the last two months, he rarely goes to bed before midnight and has no weekends.

On March 6, after learning about the nation’s 17th Covid-19 patient, Nhan led a team to Pham Than Duat Street and Trang An residential building, where the drivers of "Patient 17" had been. They sent three F1 (people having close contact with the patient) to a quarantine zone and advised 56 F2 (people having close contact with F1) to self isolate.

"It was 4:55 a.m. when I got to bed. I was sad. Who could have imagined the flight could carry the virus," said Binh, referring to Vietnam Airlines flight VN54 of March 2, carrying several Covid-19 patients.

Six days later, Vietnam recorded its 39th patient, living in Cau Giay District. It took Nhan and his teammates 12 hours to investigate the patient’s epidemiological history and find all F1 and F2 suspects. After 9 p.m., they started disinfecting the building where the patient stayed.

Nhan said he was too busy to worry.

He also works as an advisor, talking with local citizens and convincing them to quarantine in case they had contact with an infected patient.

There was an "F1 woman" who was placed under quarantine and kept calling Nhan to talk about her concerns at the facility. Nhan told her about the difficulties doctors and medical staff are facing. She subsequently thanked him for making her understand her responsibility amid the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, Cau Giay District had six Covid-19 patients with Hanoi having recorded 85 in total. Nhan never forgets to tell everyone he talks to the next two weeks will be integral in the fight against the virus.

Nhan and others in his team all believe the pandemic would be over soon.

Vietnam has recorded 212 Covid-19 cases so far, of whom 58 have recovered and been discharged. Many of the active cases are Vietnamese nationals returning from Europe and the U.S., foreigners coming from the same regions and those who’d come into contact with both groups of people.

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