'Too early' to treat Covid-19 as common illness: experts

By Staff reporters   February 18, 2022 | 11:00 pm PT
'Too early' to treat Covid-19 as common illness: experts
A crowd arrives at Tam Chuc Pagoda in northern Ha Nam Province during the Lunar New Year holiday on February 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Chieu
The possibility of new coronavirus strains still challenges Vietnam's medical system, making it hard to predict when Covid-19 could be designated as endemic, experts said.

The Ministry of Health still lists Covid in Group A, which comprises dangerous infectious diseases with the ability to spread quickly and widely, have a high mortality rate or an unknown causative agent.

Some others in this group include influenza A - H5N1, plague, smallpox, dengue fever, and cholera.

An epidemic is a common disease, or an endemic, when the number of infections could be predicted at any given time, Nguyen Tri Thuc, director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Ray Hospital, arguably the top public medical facility in southern Vietnam, said.

In addition, it requires herd immunity, including natural immunity and vaccine coverage, and at the same time the health sector is able to control the epidemic, he said.

"Vietnam is gradually resuming socioeconomic activities, but it is still too early to say if Covid-19 has become a common illness."

The number of daily cases is increasing, and the trajectory could not be predicted, he said.

In the last seven days 32,600 cases have been reported daily compared to 20,200 last week.

On Friday there were almost 42,430, the highest single-day tally ever.

Tran Dac Phu, a senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said Vietnam could not remove Covid from Group A and consider it a common infectious disease yet since it still threatens to overload the healthcare system.

After the Lunar New Year holidays which ended on Feb. 6, the number of new cases has been rising relentlessly.

New coronavirus strains such as Omicron cause the disease to spread "very quickly," and one person can infect 10 others, including fully vaccinated people, Phu said.

There is a general consensus among experts that a few more months are needed to see how the pandemic evolves along with the increasing global vaccination rate to decide whether to treat Covid as a common illness.

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son said to move Covid-19 out of Group A requires Vietnam to be ready in terms of vaccines, drugs and preventive measures.

Some 96.4 percent of the population, or 67.8 million people, is fully vaccinated, with 22 million also getting a booster.

On Thursday the health ministry said it has approved three anti Covid-19 drugs, Molravir 400 made by Boston Pharma, Movinavir 200 mg by Mekophar Chemical Pharmaceutical and Molnupiravir Stella 400 by Stellapharm, for emergency use, making them the first Covid antivirals to be approved in Vietnam.

In January Kiattiphum Wongrajit, Thailand’s permanent secretary of public health, said the Public Health Ministry plans to declare Covid-19 an endemic disease by the end of this year based on national criteria with or without World Health Organization confirmation.

He said the criteria for this are new cases not exceeding 10,000 a day, a fatality rate not exceeding 0.1 percent and vaccination of more than 80 percent of at-risk people with two doses.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, said from late February people with Covid-19 would no longer be required to self-isolate.

In late January Denmark announced an end to restrictions in early February and reclassified Covid-19 as a disease "that no longer poses a threat to society."

Sweden and Norway have lifted almost all restrictions, including for foreign visitors.

In late January, when the disease was claiming around 64,000 lives a week globally, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, "Learning to live with the virus shouldn't mean enduring that much death."

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