HCMC finds the going tough as Covid-19 control deadline looms

By Huu Cong   September 2, 2021 | 06:00 pm PT
HCMC has another two weeks to achieve the target of bringing its Covid-19 outbreak under control, but the previous fortnight has not delivered expected outcomes.

On August 16, the southern metropolis began implementing a 30-day plan to bring the pandemic under control, a day after it announced it was extending Directive 16 social distancing, the strictest level, by another month.

At a meeting to launch the month-long plan, HCMC Party Secretary Nguyen Van Nen had said that the pandemic situation in the city was "very serious" and that district authorities had a "great" responsibility in tackling it.

Noting that the outbreak had already lasted for months and the city had 30 days left to bring it under control, he exhorted district authorities and related agencies to "try our best to overcome this together."

The city has divided the plan into two phases. For the first phase, August 15-31, it had three objectives: reducing the mortality rate, leaving no critical patients without access to treatment, and expanding the "green zones" – safe areas that are not infected.

Medics sets up a bed and equipment at a Covid-19 intensive care unit in HCMCs District 7 on August 7, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Medics set up a bed and equipment at a Covid-19 intensive care unit in HCMC's District 7 on August 7, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

It has not succeeded in bringing the death rate down, recording a daily average of 267 cases in the last two weeks of August, compared to 223 previously. The death rate was below 200 for the first time on Thursday, at 197.

Nguyen Huu Hung, deputy director of the municipal health department, said at a meeting last Saturday that "How to reduce the mortality rate is one of the issues that worries the city’s health sector the most.

"With the Delta variant, most infected patients have mild or no symptoms; on average, the infection is severe in 10-15 percent of the patients, with some turning critical very quickly."

A major problem in this regard has been Covid-19 patients lacking medical oxygen. The city has deployed mobile medical stations to take small oxygen tanks to people.

The city has been categorizing Covid-19 patients into three groups for treatment: 1) patients with asymptomatic or with mild symptoms and no chronic diseases who can be treated at home or quarantine facilities; 2) patients developing symptoms and needing to be hospitalized; and 3) severe and critical patients.

"For now, the number of deaths is highest in group 2, so the health sector is asking district authorities to try and detect early any sign of patients’ condition worsening and move them to treatment facilities as quickly as possible," Hung said.

The city currently has a 4.2 percent Covid-19 fatality rate, higher than the global average. It goes up to 5.8 percent if only patients who have been hospitalized are counted.

According to the World Health Organization, the global death rate since the pandemic began has fluctuated between 2.1 percent and 4.4 percent.

"Generally speaking, the mortality rate in HCMC is within the global statistical range, but at its higher end," Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, deputy director of health department, said Tuesday.

For the goal of preventing Covid-19 patients from turning critical and not accessing treatment, the city has set up 411 mobile medical stations to take care of 59,000 patients currently staying at home for treatment.

The stations are in charge of managing, supporting and monitoring patients to send them to hospitals as soon as they develop severe symptoms.

The city also prepared 150,000 medicine packages for people to treat themselves at home, but 10 days into the plan, only 42,000 had been delivered and many medical stations had reported a shortage of the packages.

After observing this situation during an inspection of Covid-19 treatment in the city, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said: "The final destination of goods and medicines is the people, not offices of districts and communes."

A medic guides a Covid-19 patient to check her blood oxgyen level as Nhân viên y tế phường 3, quận 8, đến thăm khám, đo sPO2, tặng thuốc cho người mắc Covid-19 đang điều trị tại nhà, ngày 29/8. Ảnh:Quỳnh Trần.

A medic guides a Covid-19 patient to check her blood oxygyen level to monitor herself at home in District 8, August 29, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

To fix the situation, vice chairman Phan Van Mai of the municipal People’s Committee has ordered the health department to urgently send the medicine packages to each ward and ensure that there are more packages available than the number of patients.

For the final goal of expanding the green zone, mass testing has been ramped up across the city to isolate all possible infections in the community.

The city targeted testing all people in high-risk areas within three days starting August 23, but the task took seven days. In that week, 64,300 people were found to have contracted the novel coronavirus after rapid-testing of over 1.6 million samples, a 3.8 percent positive rate.

Health department deputy director Hung said Monday that the positive rate of 3.8 percent in high-risk community was "acceptable" as it was lower than the 5 percent benchmarked by the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, several experts said detecting more Covid-19 community transmissions via mass testing was not a matter of concern as it would allow the city to devise more appropriate counter measures.

They said the city has been on the right track in speeding up its mass testing campaign because it was the only way to assess at what level the outbreak was at; and if more cases were missed, the number of new cases would multiply many times in just a few days.

In the remaining two weeks, the city will continue making efforts to achieve the target of controlling the outbreak by mid-September.

For this period, the city aims to: reduce the number of deaths by 20 percent; ensure that the number of hospitalizations each day does not exceed the number of discharges (limit daily hospitalizations to a maximum of 2,000); administer the first vaccine dose to more than 70 percent of people above 18; and have 15 percent of them fully vaccinated.

In the fourth Covid-19 wave that hit Vietnam four months ago, HCMC has recorded the most infections at 232,585, making it the pandemic’s epicenter.

"Medicine package for Covid-19 patients" campaign aims to support patients self-isolating at home. Each donation worth VND380,000 ($16.65) can help buy medicine for one patient. For more information regarding donation methods, kindly refer to this link.

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