Now’s the 'golden period' to fight Covid-19: PM

By Viet Tuan, Hoang Phuong   March 16, 2020 | 05:00 pm PT
Now’s the 'golden period' to fight Covid-19: PM
People fill out forms to end their quarantine period at a hospital in Hanoi, March 16, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thuy An.
Vietnam's prime minister said Monday that despite the novel coronavirus epidemic intensifying, it was also a ‘golden period’ for Vietnam to contain it.

PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc said at a cabinet meeting that people should limit public gatherings, especially in big cities, as also in places like bars and karaoke parlors. He said mass and home quarantining should continue as also isolation in monitored groups.

He asked the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control to consider increasing spending on quarantined people and proposed better financial support for doctors, health workers and other workers in quarantine zones.

The "golden period" to defeat the novel coronavirus is now before the epidemic moves to the next stages, he said.

Phuc advised against discrimination against the infected patients and for strict punishment to be imposed on those who are intentionally dishonest about their conditions.

Starting March 7, everyone arriving in Vietnam from overseas has to fill out health declaration forms and follow quarantine protocols if found carrying symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

Those coming from coronavirus-hit areas, including the U.S. and Schengen area, have to receive Covid-19 tests on arrival.

Vietnam has recorded 45 new infection cases since March 6 after going 22 days without any new infection. The coronavirus epidemic has spread to 162 countries and claimed the lives of more than 7,100 people.

The PM also requested central hospitals, the army, police and local hospitals to devise urgent plans for further intensification of the epidemic.

Retired doctors, nurses, medical officers should be tapped for help if needed, he said. The Ministry of Finance and the State Bank of Vietnam should deploy support packages of the World Bank and other organizations, he directed.

Epidemiological data from China shows that 70 percent of the infections are within families, so it is necessary to inform families and provide them with more support to prevent the spread of the virus when there are risk factors, the PM said, adding that high-rise apartment buildings must also work on plans to limit the spread of the epidemic.

Vietnam will continue to restrict flights from coronavirus-hit areas. The ministries of Health, Defense and Transport will decide the landing locations of certain flights so that people can be quarantined when needed. The Health Ministry will review medical conditions of arriving passengers and consider testing right on the plane, he said.

The National Steering Committee on Covid-19 Prevention and Control has tasked relevant agencies to check body temperatures of people as and when needed. Vietnamese citizens from epidemic-hit regions will still be subject to mandatory quarantine, it added.

It also said Vietnam will make use of information technology to quickly detect suspected cases and categorize them into those with high infection risks, greater danger of developing fatal complications, such as the elderly and people with preexisting medical conditions.

Quarantining is cheaper

In a separate interview with VnExpress, Colonel Ha The Tan, Deputy Director of Army Preventive Medicine and member of Covid-19 Prevention Technical Sub-Committee of Military Medical Department under the Ministry of Defense, said aggressive quarantining can help reduce epidemic costs.

He said the money spent on quarantining of 10,000 people will be much less than treating 1,000 infections cases.

Tan also said that Vietnam has identified five stages of the epidemic. The first stage is when there are infection cases, the second when there are cross infections, the third when the virus has spread to more than 20 people, the fourth when infections rise to between 1,000 and 3,000 and the fifth when the number rises to between 3,000 and 30,000.

Vietnam is right now at stage three, and the nation’s response will be tailored accordingly, he said. The government, the national steering committee and the military have prepared for all scenarios, he added.

"I think Vietnam has not entered the stage where the infection is widespread in the community. Patients 17 and 34 have infected others, but these were mostly people close to them," Tan said, referring to 26-year-old Nguyen Hong Nhung in Hanoi who infected three people after flying back from London, and 51-year-old Dang Thi Lynh Trang in the south central Binh Thuan Province who led to at least 10 other infections after returning from Washington D.C. Both women returned to Vietnam on March 2.

At this stage, the majority of new cases in Vietnam are "imported," he said.

He said that given Vietnam’s capability in controlling the situation, it will be difficult for the number of infections to rise to 1,000 or more and reach proportions seen in South Korea, China or Italy, the colonel said.

But, he cautioned: "If the epidemic in Europe and other regions goes bad, overseas Vietnamese can rush back home. This large group is a great risk. The government should maintain imposing the immediate 14-day quarantine that has been applied to Vietnamese citizens returning from China and South Korea."

Tan also referred to Vietnam’s success in the northern province of Vinh Phuc where all 11 patients were cured and discharged, saying "we can discover cases early, zone the area and establish quarantine facilities to wipe out the epidemic right on the spot."

The Health Ministry has also launched an online portal where the nation’s top experts can communicate directly with doctors on the ground treating infected cases.

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