Covid-19 surge likely if social distancing ends, HCMC warned

By Le Phuong   August 12, 2021 | 05:00 am PT
Covid-19 surge likely if social distancing ends, HCMC warned
People wait to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in HCMC's District 11, August 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
HCMC could see Covid-19 cases surge again without sufficient people vaccinated once social distancing ends, experts warn.

Phan Huu Phuoc, a doctor working with the Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City, said there were around 4,000 cases recorded daily in the southern city from August 1 to August 10. To gradually slow down infections and end completely, it may take until the end of October, he said.

"It means the peak would appear somewhere around the first half of October," Phuoc said.

Amelioration in the current situation depends on three conditions: sufficient medical intervention; vaccination speed and Covid-19 screening in the community.

Phuoc said reaching the peak isn't something to be celebrated, as high numbers of severe cases and even deaths would come along with it.

He stressed that international experts think the Delta variant, in particular, can upend traditional coronavirus control measures.

"Some countries believe lockdowns are no longer the silver bullet to fight against the Delta variant. Vaccines and antiviral drugs are needed," he said, adding that the current vaccination speed should be increased immediately.

Truong Huu Khanh, an epidemiologist, shared Phuoc's views, saying the reason for a "plateauing" of cases currently seen in HCMC is due to lockdowns and social distancing. The only way to completely vanquish the virus is through early vaccination, he said, adding that lockdowns may continue as long as not enough people are vaccinated.

For now however, lockdowns and social distancing measures remain the only options for countries yet to achieve herd immunity through vaccination to contain the coronavirus, Phuoc said.

Citing international experts again, he said it has been estimated that for such a highly transmissible variant like Delta, it would take around 180 days of social distancing to put a stop to it.

If HCMC wants to be done with lockdowns, it would need to ramp up both vaccination and contact tracing efforts to thin out infections within the community, Phuoc said. Even quick Covid-19 test kits should be considered as part of contact tracing efforts, something many countries have done, he added.

The southern city has so far vaccinated around 3.7 million people with at least one shot. Over 118,000 people have been fully vaccinated in the city.

Ho Chi Minh City is expected to use up all its distributed vaccine doses by Thursday. The municipal administration has since requested the Health Ministry to distribute another 5.5 million doses this month to continue its vaccination program.

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