Hanoi Mid-Autumn Festival crowds can spark new outbreaks: experts

By Viet Tuan   September 22, 2021 | 05:37 am PT
Hanoi Mid-Autumn Festival crowds can spark new outbreaks: experts
Droves of vehicles flock to downtown Hanoi on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, September 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huy Thanh
The crowds that poured out into the streets of Hanoi for the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations Tuesday night could well lead to new Covid-19 outbreaks, experts say.

As the capital relaxed its coronavirus restrictions starting Tuesday, thousands of residents flooded the streets at night to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Streams of vehicles closely packed together could be seen on downtown streets like Trang Thi, Dinh Tien Hoang and Ly Thai To.

"If there was any person infected with the Delta variant among the crowds in Hanoi last night, transmission is extremely likely. Once it happens, authorities would find it difficult to contact trace, as they have no idea who's made contact with whom," said Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center.

While the capital city authorities had advised people to only go out if necessary despite the relaxed restrictions, the gathering large crowds like Tuesday night without adequate coronavirus control measures may severely impact efforts to fight Covid-19. Even if most people were wearing masks, close proximity can still allow infections to happen, Phu said.

However, he also said that Hanoi's strategy on relaxing the restrictions was appropriate, considering the drop in community transmissions cases, outbreaks contained and most of the population having received at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot.

"Relaxing restrictions helps production and business to resume, ensuring social security. However, Hanoi still has hidden, unpredictable infection risks, as isolating absolutely all coronavirus cases from the community is really hard to achieve in reality," Phu said, adding that the virus has already managed to infiltrate society's supply chains like vendors, drivers and markets, representing a mounting challenge.

Phu said that he empathized with the fact that many residents had felt stifled by extended social distancing orders, but stressed that they should still abide by the city's request to go out only if necessary. A widespread outbreak may warrant another social distancing order, which would inflict losses, severely impact the economy and the lives of everyone.

Echoing Phu's opinions, Tran Si Tuan, a doctor, said Hanoi residents did not follow coronavirus prevention measures by going out in big crowds Tuesday night.

Just because the capital city has relaxed its restrictions doesn't mean everyone could go out as they please. Even the current social distancing measures dictate that people and businesses must not be negligent as the city begins to reopen, he said.

The fact that so many people poured out onto the streets Tuesday night should be a reopening lesson for other localities; a clear roadmap needs to be drawn up with consideration given to its impacts on society, Tuan said.

"Relaxing restrictions once outbreaks have been put under control is necessary, but such moves have to be accompanied by solutions and measures to make sure large crowds don't form, posing high infection risks."

Vu Xuan Phu, deputy director of the Central Lung Hospital, felt reopening should happen alongside campaigns to raise awareness among the population on skills, measures and responsibility to keep everyone safe.

"The people's skills to adapt to the coronavirus safely would be of vital importance in the coming days as the country begins to reopen gradually reopen," he said, adding that the "new normal" would be very different from pre-pandemic times before 2020.

"Coronavirus cases still exist in one place or another, so we need to raise alarms and maintain necessary control measures. Events involving large gatherings for non-essential purposes should continue to be banned until more people are fully vaccinated," he said.

Hanoi has recorded 4,185 Covid-19 cases since the fourth coronavirus wave hit Vietnam late April. The capital has vaccinated around 5.7 million people with at least one Covid-19 vaccine shot, among which 747,000 people have been fully vaccinated.

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