Covid-19 under control in Vietnam despite waves of infected returnees: expert

By Le Nga   May 17, 2020 | 06:47 pm PT
Covid-19 under control in Vietnam despite waves of infected returnees: expert
A medic works with a machine during the process of testing samples for Covid-19 at a laboratory of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Ho Chi Minh City, April 10, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
Vietnam has done well in detecting and curbing Covid-19 infection, and its health sector is coping easily, a senior public health official said.

Tran Dac Phu, a senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said the country has not let down its guard since it recorded the first cases of new coronavirus infection in January.

Later on, as more cases were recorded, it is always prompt in quarantining Covid-19 suspects and identifying infected areas to isolate or even lock them down.

Its healthcare system, military and the public have acquired experience in preventing the spread of infection and are aware of the rules for fighting the pandemic.

"Covid-19 is still under control in Vietnam," he said at a meeting held in Hanoi on Sunday.

The nation of 95 million people has so far had only 320 cases of Covid-19. Of them, 260 patients have recovered. It has avoided community transmission since April 16 and there have been no deaths to date.

Imported cases not a concern

Now Vietnam has shifted its focus to containing transmission by people coming from overseas. All its recent cases have been people arriving from abroad on special flights from stricken areas.

But Phu said this should not be a public concern because all arrivals are immediately quarantined. In quarantine, they are tested and monitored for 14 days, and there is no chance they can spread the virus even if they have it, he said.

He warned about people entering the country through unmonitored trails and avoiding quarantines and health checks.

Recently a 39-year-old man illegally returned to the southern province of Tay Ninh from Cambodia and was quarantined the next day. He was confirmed infected on Saturday evening, and 17 people who had come into close contact with him have been isolated.

Addressing fears about the increasing number of imported cases -- more than 30 have been diagnosed since Friday morning -- Phu said the health sector is capable of handling them, and its experience in fighting severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) at the turn of the century is useful even today.

Vietnam was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first country to successfully contain SARS.

"It can be guaranteed that Vietnam is still capable of quarantining arrivals from abroad and testing them to detect infection. And, we have been doing a good job of treatment, keeping patients at local hospitals and only transferring critical cases to city- and central-level hospitals to avoid overload and pressure."

Tran Dac Phu, a senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

Tran Dac Phu, a senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh.

Reiterating that there is no need to worry about imported cases, he said community transmission should be the biggest concern.

Once it happens and spreads quickly, the medical system would be overwhelmed, he warned. But with what Vietnam has been doing, he said that scenario is unlikely to happen.

"What is important is that we do not become complacent. If we keep up our good work, we will not have to face the second wave of community infection, but even if that happens, it would remain a small outbreak that we can bring under control.

"Once infections are detected early, we can quickly locate the affected areas and do contact tracing. In that case, the outbreak will be like a small fire and we can easily put it out."

It might not end

Speaking about what the future holds, Phu said the pandemic might never disappear just like the flu or HIV.

"The pandemic could last one or two more years. Many experts have said it will not end like SARS but is here to stay."

Unlike SARS patients, who usually show symptoms and need to be hospitalized and treated immediately, Covid-19 patients do not have symptoms, which makes it easy to spread the virus in the community and difficult to detect.

"Patient 315," the man who came back from Cambodia to Tay Ninh, was one such case. He did not have symptoms like fever, cough or sore throat when entering Vietnam on May 2, and authorities had the arduous task of tracking down everyone who had come into contact with him.

WHO also said on Wednesday that the new coronavirus might never go away, and populations around the world have to learn to live with it.

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