Make the next two weeks of isolation count, HCMC advised

By Viet Tuan   July 8, 2021 | 05:48 am PT
Make the next two weeks of isolation count, HCMC advised
Phu Dong, a major intersection in HCMC's District 1, is deserted amid Covid-19 restrictions, May 31, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
HCMC should make use of its upcoming 15-day social distancing period to quash the novel coronavirus once and for all by ramping up control measures, experts say.

The southern metropolis will undergo a 15-day social distancing period starting Friday, where residents are required to stay home and only go out for basic necessities such as buying food or medicines or to work at factories or businesses that are allowed to open.

People must stay at least two meters apart from each other, and no more than two people can gather at public places apart from workplaces, schools or hospitals.

The majority of public transportation will be shut down as well and there will be no travel to other localities according to the city’s decision, which was taken as the number of local infections rose to alarming levels.

Nguyen Thu Anh, director of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research under the University of Sydney, said a number of measures have to be taken to ensure that the incoming social distancing period does not go to waste.

First, citizens need to strictly abide by all the mandated social distancing measures of keeping their distance, wearing masks, frequent disinfection and refraining from going outside in general.

"One of the reasons why HCMC has not been able to extinguish the virus completely despite having already undergone a month of social distancing is that people didn't properly follow social distancing measures," Anh said, referring to a different, less strict social distancing order that prevailed for almost all of June.

She also proposed that citizens be encouraged to stock up on necessities for the next two weeks and minimize the need to go out. Technologies should also be used for food and other goods to be delivered at people's doorsteps.

If families need to go out to purchase things, members should split the tasks among themselves to shop on different days each week.

City authorities could also utilize technologies like QR codes to keep track of the number of people passing by certain areas, as well as introduce appropriate punishments for those who violate social distancing orders, Anh said.


As the city faces an ever-rising number of new Covid-19 cases each day, HCMC should let close contacts of Covid-19 cases to self-isolate themselves in their own homes to prevent cross-infection in quarantine zones and relieve the burden from the medical system, Anh suggested.

Such a scheme has already been trialed in HCMC and is being considered for nationwide application by the Ministry of Health, along with specific guidelines on how residences have to satisfy quarantine standards, and how family members of the isolated are also isolated.

In case the coronavirus situation in HCMC worsens, for example crossing 10,000 infections, asymptomatic and mild Covid-19 cases should also be self-isolated, she said.

Other measures Anh suggested included increasing ventilation of indoor facilities like hospitals and factories, ramping up Covid-19 tests and providing financial support for vulnerable communities during the social distancing period.

Tran Dac Phu, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine under the health ministry, said the social distancing period’s main aim is to cut the chains of transmission.

"A citywide social distancing period is something nobody wants. As such, HCMC needs to make use of this time frame to extinguish the coronavirus. Social distancing measures must be strictly followed by every family," he said.

Other daily activities like traffic or production must also be coordinated to limit interactions between people while not affecting the flow of goods or the supply chains.

On Covid-19 tests, Phu said results must be returned within the day for risk assessments to be accurate.

"Slow returns of test results are basically useless, as a one-day delay is already enough for a new chain of transmission to form," he said.

Finding every remaining patient

Truong Huu Khanh, former head of the Infection-Neurology Department of the Children's Hospital 1, said HCMC must track down every single Covid-19 patient left in the city within the two-week social distancing period. But the human resources and the testing methods required to achieve such a goal is another question, he added.

"For the next half of the month, people should not go outside and create more infection risks. The city needs to make use of this time to find all remaining coronavirus patients," Khanh said.

The southern city also needs to prepare for scenarios where the number of infections continues to rise and requires more treatment and quarantine facilities.

"If that happens, mild Covid-19 cases and their close contacts should be isolated at home to relieve the burden on the medical system," he said.

Khanh also noted that the current Covid-19 testing speed has not kept up with the contact tracing process, warning that if this doesn't change soon, outbreaks will not disappear even after the two-week social distancing period is up. Private entities and other medical workforce from other fields and localities could lend a hand to speed up testing, he added.

HCMC, home to 13 million people, is suffering its worst Covid-19 outbreak ever since the disease first appeared in Vietnam early last year.

The southern city is now the most severely-hit locality with more than 9,000 local cases recorded so far in the ongoing wave that hit Vietnam on April 27.

Hundreds of new cases have been confirmed daily in recent times, with many detected via random testing at hospitals and mass tests in the community.

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