Next two weeks vital to end HCMC Covid outbreak: health official

By Le Phuong   June 16, 2021 | 11:45 pm PT
Next two weeks vital to end HCMC Covid outbreak: health official
Women clean up a centralized quarantine zone in HCMC. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
HCMC may stand a chance to contain its Covid-19 outbreak if citizens adhere to ongoing social distancing protocols, the health ministry said Wednesday.

Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son said the extended social distancing period starting Tuesday would help stall the disease long enough to limit Covid-19 spread in the community if everyone abides by social distancing measures. It is a prerequisite to end outbreaks in the southern metropolis, he added.

Should people fail to abide by social distancing measures during such a small window of time, the opportunity to contain the outbreak would slip away, he said.

"If people don't take the chance in the coming two weeks to maintain distances, avoid crowds and public transport, there would be no chance to stop the disease and instead, the risk would be even higher.

"If that happens, HCMC would have to face huge challenges in the coronavirus fight."

The city also needs to prepare for different scenarios should the number of infections spiral out and reach milestones like 5,000 or 10,000 cases. The city has recorded 1,135 local cases during Vietnam's latest coronavirus wave.

The good news is local clusters have largely been put under control and new community cases are being detected early on, which is helpful for the contact tracing process, Son said. HCMC is also capable of receiving new Covid-19 patients with around 2,500 beds in eight hospitals, and around 1,000 more beds expected in future, he added.

Testing and quarantining

HCMC is currently deploying all manners of Covid-19 testing, including quick and RT-PCR tests, while also combining different samples into one batch to hasten the testing process, said Son.

Vietnams Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.

The strategy is necessary especially amid the emergence of new coronavirus variants that are more transmissible and capable of avoiding the immune system, including the Delta variant first detected in India that has now been deemed responsible for a large number of Covid-19 cases in Vietnam.

Besides Covid-19 testing, HCMC hospitals are employing a screening process that seeks potential Covid-19 symptoms, then traces a patient’s close contacts within the community. This screening process is particularly important in highly populated areas, said Phan Trong Lan, director of Pasteur Institute in HCMC.

To relieve the burden on the medical system, the Ministry of Health is currently devising a plan to quarantine close contacts of Covid-19 cases, designated F1, at home instead of quarantine zones.

A person infected with the coronavirus is deemed F0, while those who have been in contact with them are deemed F1, and so on. F1s must be placed in centralized quarantine zones, while F2s can self-isolate at home.

According to Son, as the pandemic continues to spread in several localities, quarantine zones might get overloaded over time, creating the risk of cross-infection. Allowing F1s to isolate at home would help with that problem.

But whether residences meet requirements to act as a quarantine units is another story.

"For example, many workers often live together in the same space. A house where family members keep crossing paths is also not appropriate for quarantining," said Son, adding as long as keeping people in quarantine zones stays viable, the measure should continue.

Over 11,300 people are in numerous centralized quarantine zones across HCMC right now, with the city looking for ways to expand these zones so they could contain greater numbers. Amid concerns the zones are reaching maximum capacity, certain localities have enlisted the help of hotels as quarantine zones.

HCMC crossed the 1,000 local case tally in the new wave Wednesday, prompting the Health Ministry to transfer around 800,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to the city. The city has inoculated over 12,100 people so far, mainly frontline workers in the Covid-19 fight.

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