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2019-nCoV roundup: Vietnam steps up vigilance, preparations

By Staff reporters   February 5, 2020 | 04:47 pm PT
2019-nCoV roundup: Vietnam steps up vigilance, preparations
Doctors help each other put on protective uniforms at Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC as they prepare to check on two nCoV-infected patients, February 3, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
Two weeks after Vietnam confirmed its first novel coronavirus (nCoV) infection, the nation has taken drastic measures to limit its spread.

Vietnam has announced 10 infections of the new pneumonia virus and three of them have been declared healthy and discharged from hospital.

The first infections were confirmed on January 23 – two Chinese nationals: Li Ding, 66, and his son Li Zichao, 28.

Ding arrived in Hanoi from Hubei Province's Wuhan City, the epicenter of the epidemic, on January 13, before proceeding to Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa. His son Zichao, who had been residing in Long An Province for the previous four months, went to visit him in Nha Trang. Both of them traveled to Saigon and neighboring Long An later.

Ding developed a fever on January 17, and Zichao followed suit on January 20. Both were admitted to the Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. The son's has been declared infection free, while the father, with multiple pre-existing health problems including hypertension, diabetes and surgery for lung cancer, is still under observation. The son has been discharged after testing negative several times for the virus, while the father, who has tested negative once, remains under observation.

Chinese patient Li Zichao receives treatment at Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC February 3, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa

Chinese patient Li Zichao receives treatment at Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC February 3, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

On February 1, a 25-year-old female hotel receptionist in Khanh Hoa Province, where the two Chinese nationals had stayed, tested positive for the virus. She was discharged from hospital on Tuesday.

Five of eight employees of the Japan-based Nihon Plast Company Limited sent to train in Wuhan for two months have been confirmed infected with the nCoV at varying dates. They had returned to Vietnam on a January 17 Southern China Airlines flight (CZ8315). One of them was declared healthy and discharged on Monday.

A friend of one of the workers visited her family in the northern Vinh Phuc Province during the Lunar New Year, developed high fever on January 31 and has been confirmed positive with the virus as well.

The other infection case confirmed so far is a 73-year-old Vietnamese-American who had boarded Flight 660 of China Southern Airlines to Vietnam from the U.S. on January 14. He transited at the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on January 15 for two hours and arrived in HCMC on January 16. Hotel staff took him to the HCMC Hospital of Tropical Diseases on January 31, four days after he developed a cough. He is still in quarantine at the hospital.

Aside from the none confirmed cases, the nation has so far quarantined hundreds of suspected cases with symptoms like high fever and coughing, including some people who had visited infected areas in China. Of these, 78 are in quarantine in hospitals pending test results. More than 400 others are being quarantined at home after having contact with infected patients.

Government actions

A soldier disinfects a military office in Thua Thien-Hue Province, central Vietnam, to serve as isolation area for Vietnamese citizens to be coming back from China, February 5, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

A soldier disinfects a military office in Thua Thien-Hue Province, central Vietnam, to serve as isolation area for Vietnamese citizens to be coming back from China, February 5, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

Starting January 29, Vietnam suspended all flights to and from coronavirus-hit areas in China and alongside this move, temporarily stopped granting visas for residents from coronavirus-hit areas.

The Ministry of Public Security ordered strict entry and exit control at all border gates for all forms of transportation – land, sea and air. Strict inspections of people and goods are also part of the order and a prohibition has been placed on import and transport of wild animals.

The Ministry of Health on January 31 advised people to avoid crowded places as a safety measure against the deadly new coronavirus. If there was no emergency, meetings should be held online to avoid direct contact, the ministry said, also advising against organizing traditional festival celebrations. This is a time when Vietnam celebrates many spring festivals that usually gather thousands of people in one place. Following this call, several major festivals have been called off across the nation.

That same day, 45 rapid response teams were set up at major hospitals across Vietnam to deal with suspected nCoV cases. Based in hospitals in major cities and provinces, each team has at least two doctors and one ambulance that is equipped with emergency resuscitation facilities for patients as well as personal protective equipment for doctors and staff.

On February 1, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a decision declaring the novel coronavirus outbreak an epidemic in Vietnam. The government classified the coronavirus infection a "class A infectious disease of global emergency" that can be transmitted between humans through the respiratory system.

Extended break for universities, schools

Millions of school and university students in Hanoi and HCMC have got an extended Lunar New Year break after enjoying a 16-day holiday that was to end on February 2.

Of the country's 63 cities and provinces, all except Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta have announced plans to extend the Tet break for students by at least two days. Most colleges and universities across the country have made similar moves.

On February 3, companies in Vietnam were requested to suspend receiving Chinese laborers returning from coronavirus-infected regions after spending their Tet holiday at home until the coronavirus situation is under control.

The same day, Prime Minister Phuc ordered a mandatory 14-day quarantining of all Vietnamese and foreigners entering Vietnam from 31 localities in China that have recorded nCoV infections. The virus is said to have a 14-day incubating period during which the patient remains asymptomatic.

Hospitals built post haste

Ho Chi Minh City authorities including the municipal military command have begun work on a field hospital with two locations to handle nCoV cases. The hospital, set to be completed by mid-February, will have a total of 500 beds and adequate personnel to deal with an expected rise in suspected cases and actual infections.

Meanwhile, the capital city of Hanoi has also prepared to build two field hospitals to quarantine up to 1,000 people suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus (nCoV).

A senior official said the two hospitals will be able to quarantine 1,500 people for 14 days.

Public response

People flock in to buy face masks at a drugstore in Hanoi, January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

People flock in to buy face masks at a drugstore in Hanoi, January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

After healthcare authorities officially recommended the use of a face mask to prevent the nCoV infection, apart from maintaining personal hygiene by frequent washing of hand with soap, the sale of face masks shot through the roof, and many outlets jacked prices up significantly. Authorities have announced that strict action will be taken against such establishments.

Meanwhile, social media comments on the mask shortage led to jokes like rich kids could be identified these days by the number of masks they were wearing. In Hanoi, some individuals and stores stepped in to offer free masks to desperate residents. The police later stepped in and distributed free masks as well.

Some people, including several celebrities, whipped up panic by posting unverified reports and rumors about localities having infected patients and on people coming in from China. Several of the rumormongers have been censured and fined VND10-15 million ($430-540).

With confusion and worry spreading widely, many companies have decided to let their employees work from home to limit the gathering of many people at one place and many others have cancelled fingerprint check-in procedures and asked that employees wear face masks in the office. Many groups and events have been created on social media platforms, mostly Facebook, exhorting people to work from home.

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