Outbreak fears as Mekong Delta struggles with returning migrant workers

By Cuu Long, Ngoc Tai   October 3, 2021 | 01:46 am PT
With the Mekong Delta laboring under large quarantining burdens as migrants return from the southeast region in the thousands, officials fear outbreaks if the localities' capabilities are stretched.

An Giang Province, for instance, had more than 15,000 migrant workers return on motorbikes over the past three days. The flow has not stopped and gateways leading to the province are bustling with the traffic.

Nguyen Thanh Binh, Chairman of the An Giang People's Committee, said that the province’s maximum capacity for centralized quarantine camps is 10,000. Every facility is currently full, he added.

The rush of people returning to their hometown has had many functional forces to work through the night monitoring traffic flow, conducting rapid tests for Covid-19 and escorting people to quarantine camps.

An Giang officials fear that if the flow of people continues to increase, it will be too much for the province to bear and the risks of a potential outbreak will also rise.

Thousands of people in HCMC carrying their belongings and children took to the National Highway 1 to return to their hometown return to their hometowns in the Mekong Delta by motorbike on Oct. 1, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Thousands of people have been leaving HCMC since Friday, heading for their hometowns on motorbikes with their children and belongings. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

"Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong, Dong Nai and others localities have reopened. Production activities in these localities have also recovered and they are calling for workers to stay back. The sea of people returning home at this time is extremely difficult for our province to handle," Binh said.

An Giang has regulated that returning migrants who have been fully vaccinated and had negative PCR test results can quarantine themselves at home under authorities' supervision. Others have to be isolated in centralized quarantine camps and have to pay the quarantine and testing fees.

Among the people who have returned so far, more than 10 Covid-19 cases were detected via rapid testing.

Besides having to supervise returning migrants, the province has to focus its resources on controlling outbreaks in the area. On Saturday, the province detected 139 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the locality to 5,178 cases.

In the neighboring province of Dong Thap, where around 20,000 people have returned to their hometown in the past two days, rapid testing has detected at least 14 Covid-19 cases.

Doan Tan Buu, vice chairman of the Dong Thap People's Committee, said that the province was urgently preparing quarantine facilities for returning migrants. However, the continued influx of people will exceed the province's quarantine capacity, he said.

Welcome back, but...

Buu also said that although there was no policy in place yet to receive people returning to their hometown unescorted by authorities, the province was still welcoming them back. But he also advised people not to spontaneously return to Dong Thap in the near future because the province's isolation capacity was limited.

Dong Thap Province officials turn a local school campus into centralized quarantine facility for returning migrant workers. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

Dong Thap Province officials turn a local school campus into a centralized quarantine facility for returning migrant workers. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

For extremely urgent cases such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, the province will organize pick-up trips to ensure their safety and the safety of their families and the community, he said.

Amid the massive influx of people going back to their hometowns, Dong Thap's quarantine camps only have a total of nearly 5,000 current spots.

In fact, the number of returnees can even be larger because the province's statistics show it has 100,000 residents who have migrated elsewhere to work.

Kien Giang Province has seen more than 20,000 people returning from HCMC and nearby industrial provinces.

Lam Minh Thanh, the province's chairman, said: "With such a large numnber of people, we cannot accomodate all of them in centralized quarantine camps at once."

Thanh said that after all the returnees are tested, those with positive results will be sent to hospitals for treatment and others will be quarantined at home under strict supervision of local officials.

Huynh Quoc Viet, his counterpart in the neighboring Ca Mau Province, said the province has suspended plans to resume activities from Monday after around 6,000 people returned. Tests over 1,000 of them have showed 25 infected with the novel coronavirus.

The province is asking people not to go out unless when it's really necessary.

Kien Soc Kha, director of Tra Vinh Health Department, said that from Friday evening until Saturday noon, 2,000 people had returned to the province. Most of the people were returning from epidemic areas, so they had to be placed in centralized quarantine camps. Among the returnees, the province has detected at least eight cases positive for the novel coronavirus.

"Currently, at the Co Chien Bridge, there are still about 800 people waiting for authorities to let them enter the province," Kha said.

People returning to Tra Vinh Province are waiting at a heckpoint on Co Chien Bridge on Oct. 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Hoai Phong

People returning to Tra Vinh Province wait at a checkpoint on Co Chien Bridge on Oct. 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Hoai Phong

Limited treatment capacity

Local officials are very worried that if the infux of people is not well controlled, it could trigger a massive outbreak. Meanwhile, the province's maximum treatment capacity at present is about 1,100 Covid-19 patients.

Le Van Han, Chairman of the Tra Vinh People's Committee, said centralized quarantine facilities were overloaded and people continued to flock back to the province. Since many schools were preparing to welcome back students, the province had to requisition cultural houses, sports centers and other facilities and turn them into isolation camps.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Uyen Thanh, vice chairwoman of the Vinh Long People's Committee, said that in the past two days, the province has received more than 800 people returning on motorbikes, mainly from HCMC and the rest from Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An.

However, the province's centralized quarantine facilities have a maximum capacity of 3,000; and hospitals are only capable of treating 2,000 Covid-19 patients at a time.

More than 2,500 people have returned to Bac Lieu Province over the past two days. The province can only accommodate 10,000 people in its quarantine camps and these have 5,000 people already.

Bui Quoc Nam, director of the provincial health department, said that the province’s Covid treatment capacity was at most 2,000 patients, including 400 severe cases.

In the ongoing outbreak, Bac Lieu has recorded 482 cases, including 306 recoveries and two deaths.

At a meeting Wednesday with the central government, authorities of the Central Highlands and southern localities, including the Mekong Delta, had agreed that migrants cannot return home from HCMC and its neighboring localities of Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An without supervision.

They said their medical capacities were limited and it is not safe if people return en masse from Covid-19 hit areas.

On September 30, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh had said that HCMC and the provinces of Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An should continue to monitor the flow of people going in and out and not let them travel to other localities unsupervised.

Given the huge demand, authorities in HCMC and nearby provinces have arranged buses to transport people to their hometowns. The city alone has arranged 113 buses since Friday afternoon at its gateways to take people home.

Once reaching their hometown, they would be put under different levels of quarantine depending on their vaccination status.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Public Security, there are currently 3.5 million people from provinces and cities across the country working in HCMC and provinces of Long An, Binh Duong and Dong Nai. Of these, 2.1 million want to return to their hometowns.

The fourth wave hit Vietnam late April and 798,627 infections had been recorded nationwide as of Saturday, including 395,052 in HCMC, 214,360 in Binh Duong, 49,839 in Dong Nai and 32,609 in Long An.

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