Coronavirus outbreak at hospital difficult to contain, says Hanoi chief

By Vo Hai   March 29, 2020 | 08:18 pm PT
Coronavirus outbreak at hospital difficult to contain, says Hanoi chief
Family members of Bach Mai Hospital patients are transported to quarantine camps in Hanoi, March 28, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Hanoi authorities fear the Covid-19 outbreak that began at Bach Mai Hospital would be difficult to control since it transferred 5,000 patients to other provinces.

The risk of the coronavirus infection spreading from the hospital, which had 16 patients, was highlighted by city Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung at a conference Sunday.

Upon learning that two nurses at Bach Mai, one of Vietnam's largest hospitals, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus on March 19, the city immediately identified everyone who had been in close contact with them to quarantine and test them, he said.

Chung said that on March 19, he proposed to Bach Mai Hospital managers and the Health Ministry officials to lock down some departments, reduce the number of patients it receives, and keep patients already inside the hospital.

But the proposal was rejected, and the hospital then transferred more than 5,000 of its patients to hospitals across northern localities, including nearly 1,600 to other hospitals in Hanoi.

"Members of the city steering committee for the prevention and control of the epidemic said the act of transferring patients to localities is no different from releasing chickens only to chase after them again," Chung said.

Between March 19 and right until Bach Mai’s lockdown on March 28, thousands of people still entered and left the hospital every day, he said.

Chung warned that a nurse at the hospital who later tested positive for Covid-19 had distributed drugs to around 2,000 HIV patients between March 9 and 14.

Twenty three employees of Truong Sinh Company, which supplies food and water to the hospital, delivered water to all of the hospital's departments and two of them tested positive.

The hospital canteen is also thought to pose a very high risk of spreading the infection since 600-700 people eat there on weekdays and 250 people on weekends. The kitchen provides food to 5,000-6,000 hospital staff while 2,000-3,000 students and interns from all over Hanoi and nearby provinces come there to eat.

Chung said he had asked foreign experts on disease prevention and control to analyze the Bach Mai Hospital case and assess the risk of Covid-19 spreading to the community, and was told the situation at Bach Mai could be more complex than at hospitals in Daegu in South Korea, Lombardy in Italy and New York in the U.S. considering how many patients and others it has entering and leaving every day.

"The outbreak at Bach Mai Hospital is the most complex in the whole country. The risk of the infection spreading from the hospital to the community is very high. It is very likely that in the coming days more cases would be discovered."

He asked the government to provide Hanoi with 15,000-20,000 testing kits so that it could carry out quick coronavirus tests on a large scale, especially in wards at Bach Mai with dialysis patients, HIV patients and outpatients and people who donate blood frequently.

But Nguyen Thanh Long, Deputy Minister of Health, said the ministry has taken drastic response to the Bach Mai outbreak.

As soon as the first positive cases were diagnosed, the health ministry immediately instructed Bach Mai Hospital to lock down and quarantine all doctors and other workers and family members of patients who could have come into contact with them, he said.

The ministry has since tested all Bach Mai workers and patients as well as their family members to determine the source of the infection, and out of the 6,000 samples collected, nine tested positive, seven belonging to Truong Sinh Company employees, he said.

"In the evening of March 27, after discovering two cases at Truong Sinh Company, the Ministry of Health discussed this and reported to the deputy prime minister. The main source of infection was determined to be Truong Sinh Company rather than the health workers. The Ministry of Health immediately requested a full lockdown of Bach Mai Hospital from noon on March 28."

"The ministry has worked with Bach Mai Hospital to get camera footage of vehicles entering the facility since March 12 and noted down the license plates of all vehicles, even Grab and Uber, to contain the epidemic."

As of Monday morning, Vietnam’s Covid-19 tally had risen to 194, including 25 associated with Bach Mai Hospital and Truong Sinh Company. 52 patients have been discharged after recovery.

Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 33,900 people as it spread to 199 countries and territories so far.

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