India Covid crisis should work as wake-up call for Vietnam: experts

By Le Nga, Chi Le   April 26, 2021 | 10:22 pm PT
With Vietnam entering a four-day holiday after a month without local transmission of Covid-19, health experts warn of a possible India-like scenario.

This weekend a four-day break marks Reunification Day on April 30 and Labor Day on May 1.

With a month just passing without a single case of Covid, many people are expected to go on tours and to places of amusement, resulting in mass gatherings.

This is worrying health experts, who fear a new outbreak could occur just as happened in India.

Earlier this year India apparently became complacent with just 10,000 new cases a day and vaccines becoming available, and authorities allowed the resumption of big gatherings, including major festivals and political rallies for elections.

The Hindu Kumbh Mela festival, where vast crowds gather to take a holy dip in the Ganges River in the city of Haridwar, was permitted to proceed.

Millions attended the event for weeks in April.

There were the election rallies in late March in the state of West Bengal, which too gathered huge crowds.

It was only on April 17 that the organizers of the Kumbh Mela exhorted people not to congregate in large numbers in Haridwar.

The two events emerged as super spreaders with the number of daily cases seeing a 6,000 percent rise between March 1 and April 22 in West Bengal, and by over 450 percent between April 1 when the Kumbh Mela started and April 17 when it was called off, the Indian media reported.

Now India is experiencing the world's worst outbreak. The number of cases daily has been rising for the past 10 days.

In this aerial picture taken on April 26, 2021, relatives and friends of a victim who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus gather to cremate the body at a cremation ground in New Delhi. Photo by AFP/Jewel Samad

In this picture taken on April 26, relatives and friends of a victim who died of Covid-19 cremate the person's body in New Delhi. Photo by AFP/Jewel Samad.

On Monday there were 352,991 new cases, and the World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Covid situation in India is now "beyond heartbreaking."

Reuters reported there is at least one Covid death in less than four minutes in the capital Delhi as an underfunded health system buckles. The media has been reporting a drastic shortage of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders for patients in distress.

Crematoriums and cemeteries are also overwhelmed.

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said Vietnam has to learn the lessons from India and other countries in the region like Cambodia and Thailand to avoid neglecting vital health protection measures such as wearing masks in public places and calling off events that gather big crowds.

Border risks

Though Vietnam has been free of community transmissions for one month now, its neighbor Cambodia has been in the grip of a spread since late February.

Its caseload has crossed 10,000, with 580 new cases reported on Monday alone, after there were just around 400 cases in the whole of last year.

Laos and Thailand are also facing a surge and community transmission.

With Vietnam sharing a long border with Cambodia and Laos and situated not far from Thailand, experts said it is time for Vietnam to bolster its efforts to keep out the coronavirus.

"The traveling, meeting and gathering during the upcoming holidays would create opportunities for the virus to spread widely once it enters the nation," Phu said.

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son (2nd, R) inspects activities on Covid-19 prevention at the border area in An Giang Province, April 26, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dung

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son (2nd, R) inspects Covid-19 prevention activities at the Cambodian border in An Giang Province on April 26. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dung.

It is crucial now for everyone to fully comply with the Ministry of Health-mandated protocols to prevent the pandemic, including wearing masks, disinfecting hands, social distancing, avoid gathering in big crowds, and completing health declarations while traveling, Phu said.

During the upcoming holidays, people would come into close contact with one another, and no one would be able to tell for sure who has the virus, he pointed out.

Therefore, health declarations are really important to enable authorities to trace all F1 and F2 should any outbreak occur, he said.

During a visit to An Giang Province on the border with Cambodia on Monday, Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son said pandemic prevention efforts must be raised to the highest levels for now.

"At festivals where there are mass gatherings, anyone without a face mask will be penalized."

With Vietnam sharing a 1,137-kilometer border with Cambodia in the Mekong Delta, near HCMC and in the Central Highlands, protecting border areas now means protecting Vietnam from the pandemic, he said.

He urged border forces and local authorities to remain on high alert to prevent people from illegally sneaking into Vietnam with the virus.

Everyone entering the country is quarantined for 14 days and tested at least twice, but recently there have been several instances of people entering unnoticed through unmanned trails or through the sea from Cambodia and later testing positive.

Vu Minh Dien, deputy director of the pandemic prevention and vaccination center at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said it is understandable that many people want to travel during the holidays and what needs to be done is to exhort everyone to follow pandemic prevention protocols, especially avoiding mass gatherings.

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