End social distancing campaign: Hanoi, HCMC

By Huu Cong   April 20, 2020 | 08:06 am PT
End social distancing campaign: Hanoi, HCMC
A deserted street in Ho Chi Minh City in April 2020 during the social distancing campaign. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have proposed that the government not extend the social distancing campaign set to end April 22 in both cities.

Ngo Van Quy, Hanoi Deputy Chairman, said at a Monday afternoon meeting that if by April 22, there are no new Covid-19 cases and the epidemic is "basically controlled", Directive 15 rather than Directive 16 should be implemented.

While Directive 16 orders the current nationwide social distancing campaign, Directive 15, issued March 27 by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, asks localities across the country to stop social events, gatherings of over 20 people in a place and gatherings of 10 people or more outside workplaces, schools and hospitals. A minimum distance of 2 meters between people in public places should be ensured.

Directive 16 does not allow gatherings of more than two people and asks people to stay at home, stepping outside only for emergencies, buying food and medicine, and working in factories, production facilities and businesses that involve trade in "essential" goods and services.

Quy also asked ministries to provide specific safety guidelines for companies, factories, construction sites and businesses permitted to operate during the epidemic.

Hanoi officials said at the meeting that the city has continued to practice social distancing, increased testing, zoned disease-hit areas and controlled the spread of outbreaks in the past week.

The capital city has recorded the highest number of infections in the country with 132 cases, but it has not recorded a new infection for the past seven days. It has 29 active patients at present, the rest having been discharged.

At Ha Loi Village in the capital city’s Me Linh District, the city’s second largest hotspot after Bach Mai Hospital, medical staff have tested every resident, nearly 13,000, and identified five positive cases that have been announced. The rest tested Covid-19 negative.

Hanoi authorities identified 1,793 cases related to the Me Linh flower market on National Highway No.23 that runs through the district, which was one of the places "Patient 243" visited. The case of the 47-year-old man who visited Bach Mai hospital was announced on April 8.

Of the 1,793, rapid testing of four people initially showed positive results, but were later reversed following re-examination. This means Hanoi has been able to contain the outbreak in Ha Loi Village, officials stated.

In Dong Cuu Commune’s Tren neighbourhood, Thuong Tin District, where "Patient 266" lives (confirmed April 14) authorities isolated 50 people who’d come into close contact with her and tested 1,196 people. The results came out negative. The situation is basically under control, they said.

Hanoi has also tested more than 29,000 of 31,000 people associated with the Bach Mai Hospital, Vietnam’s top hotspot with at least 46 related cases. No one has tested positive among them.

Starting Saturday the city began testing traders and shoppers at several wholesale markets frequented by thousands of people every day. 1,064 people have showed negative test results.

"This means that Hanoi has basically not found any new sources of Covid-19 infection in the community," Quy said.

However, he noted that people should remain vigilant because Hanoi is still a "high-risk" city.

Directive 16 worked, new one needed

Ho Chi Minh City, with three active infection cases in total, also proposed that the government lifts the social distancing campaign.

The rationale for this, Chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong said Monday afternoon, is that of the city's 54 confirmed cases, 51 have recovered and been discharged from the hospital. HCMC has also gone through 17 consecutive days without a new infection. The success was thanks to the implementation of Directive 16, he noted.

"The city proposes that the government soon issues a new directive in the spirit that every activity is carried out with safety policies to prevent the disease," Phong said.

Although there was no outbreak in the community, there are still many potential risks, he said, adding that the city has carefully prepared measures to restart economic activities while remaining focused on the Covid-19 fight.

The measures include organizing a city-level quick response team, 24 district-level response teams and 322 quick response teams at lower levels to monitor residents' compliance with social distancing.

Compliance will also be checked at traditional and wholesale markets throughout their opening hours, Phong said, adding that those not wearing masks will be fined and not allowed entry.

The city will also deploy public security forces in 24 districts to ensure that people practice social distancing until the government declares the end of the epidemic and also ensure that criminal activities are kept in check.

"Ho Chi Minh City has prepared itself to promote economic development when the social distancing ends to achieve the dual goals. The city is also looking into opening a number of essential activities with little risk of infection that comply with the central criteria for disease control measures in each sector and field," Phong said.

Low-risk, small-scale businesses will be allowed to operate first on a pilot basis. If the results are good, others will follow. For large-scale industries, the pilot period will last 30 days. Depending on the development of Covid-19, the city will adjust the pilot period and authorize business operations accordingly.

The city is also working on a safety guideline in schools to prepare for the return of students in mid-May, Phong said.

There are currently 71 people in concentrated quarantine facilities and 197 others being home-quarantined in the city.

Last Wednesday, the PM had extended the social distancing campaign for a week until April 22 in Hanoi, HCMC and 10 other localities deemed to be at "high risk" of the Covid-19 virus spreading.

The 10 other localities are Lao Cai, Quang Ninh, Bac Ninh, and Ninh Binh provinces in the north; Da Nang City and Quang Nam, Binh Thuan, Khanh Hoa, and Ha Tinh provinces in the center and Tay Ninh Province in the south.

A VnExpress survey held since Monday noon that polled 40,000 people showed nearly 15,000 (37.5 percent) suggesting that the social distancing campaign not be extended after April 22.

Forty-four percent said people should practice social distancing until the end of April, while the remainder said the campaign should only be applied in Hanoi and Saigon.

Vietnam has gone through four consecutive days without a new infection. Of the country's recorded 268 cases, 214 have been discharged and many of the active patients have tested Covid-19 negative at least once.

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