Vietnam declares novel coronavirus epidemic

By Viet Tuan   February 1, 2020 | 07:27 am PT
Vietnam declares novel coronavirus epidemic
Students wear face masks in class at a primary school in Hanoi to prevent nCoV virus infection, January 31, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued a decision declaring the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak an epidemic in Vietnam on Saturday.

The starting date of the epidemic was noted to be January 23, when the first two cases of the coronavirus infection, a Chinese man from Wuhan and his son, were confirmed. As of Saturday afternoon, Vietnam had confirmed six cases of infection with the epidemic being present in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, the northern province of Vinh Phuc and the north-central Thanh Hoa Province.

The government has classified the coronavirus infection a "class A infectious disease of global emergency" that can transmit from human to human through the respiratory system.

According to the Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, class A infectious diseases consist of extremely dangerous infectious diseases that are capable of rapid, widespread transmission with either a high mortality rate. Class A infectious diseases currently include polio, influenza A-H5N1, plague, smallpox, Ebola, Lassa and Marburg hemorrhagic fever, West Nile fever, yellow fever, cholera, severe acute respiratory infections caused by viruses and other dangerous infectious diseases of unknown cause.

The government has implemented disease prevention and control measures in accordance with the law, including establishing a national steering committee for the prevention and control of the epidemic, declaring and reporting on the epidemic, providing emergency care, medical examination, quarantine and treatment for patients, cleaning and disinfecting areas with the epidemic, implementing personal protective measures, controlling entry and exit to and from infected areas, mobilizing and requisitioning resources for combating the epidemic and participating in international cooperation against the epidemic.

District and municipal hospitals, as well as the military and police forces, have all been mobilized to help receive, quarantine, monitor and treat patients.

Despite the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the nCoV a global emergency, Vietnam has yet to declare it a national health emergency as the number of infected cases and deaths, as well as the extent of the epidemic and the ineffectiveness of preventive measures are still insufficient to warrant such declaration, according to Nguyen Thanh Long, Deputy Minister of Health.

"In 2009, Vietnam had nearly 10,000 people infected with the H1N1 virus and 22 deaths, but even then we did not declare a health emergency," he said.

According to Long, the nCoV epidemic is having complicating development and Vietnam "has been and is still implementing prevention and control measures that are even stronger than those recommended by the WHO."

Deputy PM Vu Duc Dam, head of the National Steering Committee for the Prevention and Control of the acute respiratory infection caused by nCoV, has requested that preparations be made for even the worst case scenario.

The Ministry of Health has instructed local health departments to publicize their hotlines latest by Saturday afternoon to answer people's questions about the disease, as well as requested that local authorities disinfect schools, offices, markets and other crowded areas.

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son also added that different types of face masks could be used to prevent coronavirus infection. Medical masks should be prioritized when visiting medical centers, stations, airports and crowded places, while for other places cloth face masks that are washed regularly with detergents could be used.

According to Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Dang Hoang An, Vietnam currently has 38 units producing three-layer face masks with a total capacity of 1.2 million masks per day, as well as two units producing N95 face masks with a combined capacity of 32,000 masks per day, which are sufficient to meet the public's demand.

The Ministries of Health and of Industry and Trade are both closely monitoring the face mask and disinfectant markets to ensure production and strictly punish speculative trading and illicit gains. Various pharmacies have also been inspected and fined for raising the price of face masks.

"From now on, if people have evidence or photos of any pharmacy that raises the price of medical masks then there's no need for inspectors to be dispatched, the Ministry of Health could withdraw that pharmacy's business license immediately. This is a disciplinary and ethical issue that needs to be taken seriously," Dam said.

The deputy PM called for the epidemic to be tackled with a fighting spirit and requested that localities proactively develop plans to combat the epidemic, even for the worst-case scenario.

He also asserted that Vietnam always publicly and transparently identifies all cases of coronavirus infection and timely quarantine them so that the public could be well aware of the situation and take preventive measures against the disease.

Vietnam has reported 153 suspected cases, who suffered high fever, coughing and/or coming back from the infected areas, as of Saturday. Of them, 27 are being quarantined pending test results.

Besides mainland China and Vietnam, the virus has spread to 25 other countries and territories: Hong Kong, Macao, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, the U.S., South Korea, France, Germany, Canada, the UAE, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, the U.K., Russia, Finland, Nepal, Sweden, and Spain. It has infected more than 12,000 people and killed 259 in China.

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