Vietnam’s government said Wednesday it is stepping up measures against a sudden wave of coronavirus infections in the country. The latest outbreak came after 100 days without any reported cases of COVID-19.
At the government’s daily COVID-19 meeting, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said “The outbreak this time has a high risk of spreading to other big cities and provinces around Da Nang.”
Over the past five days, officials confirmed 34 new cases of infections coming from the popular beach city of Da Nang. They included an American who had been in Da Nang and his partner. The two are now hospitalized in Ho Chi Minh City. A woman in the central highland area of Dak Lak also tested positive for the coronavirus. She had worked at Da Nang Hospital.
In the capital city of Hanoi, health officials closed a restaurant for disinfection after a worker tested positive for the coronavirus. The man had recently returned from Da Nang.
The government estimates that tens of thousands of tourists left Da Nang after the outbreak. They included 18,000 who returned to Ho Chi Minh City, the business center of the country.
The government on Tuesday suspended all flights to and from Da Nang for 15 days. The prime minister told state-broadcaster VTV that Da Nang must go under “strict lockdown” and other popular cities had to be more watchful.
With over 95 million people, Vietnam had managed to keep its coronavirus infections to about 450 cases. It did this with an aggressive program of quarantine and contact-tracing. Vietnam is the most populous country in the world to have recorded no deaths from the virus. And until now, the country reported no local infections for more than three months.
The source of the new COVID-19 infection in Da Nang remains unclear. But Vietnamese scientists have said this strain of coronavirus appeared to be more infectious than the earlier one. They said it is similar to the one found in Bangladesh, Britain and Ireland.
The government has not officially linked the new cases to illegal immigration. But Prime Minister Phuc has ordered police to restrict illegal entries. And state media on Sunday said police in Da Nang had arrested a 42-year-old Chinese man. He was suspected of smuggling people across the border from China.
Adam McCarty is chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi. He told VOA, “It could be another outbreak, and it’s really sort of scared the Vietnamese, because they thought they’d gotten through it all, but as the rest of the world discovered, this thing spreads much quicker than you think.”
Jack Nguyen is a partner with the firm Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City. He said, “We’re hoping it doesn’t spread out, because if it does, they’ll do another lockdown, and it’s going to impact business hard.”
Nguyen Thi Kieu Trinh and her family just cancelled their planned vacation in Phu Quoc Island. She told the website VNExpress "I would rather lose the money than risk getting infected on a plane or at the airport. Even staying in Hanoi makes me nervous."
Tay Bac, a popular travel agency in Ho Chi Minh City, said that over 20,000 Vietnamese have canceled their summer vacations, as of July 26. And some even canceled tours during the month of September.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from VOA, Reuters, Associated Press and VNExpress. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
outbreak –n. the sudden appearance of an infectious disease or conflict
test positive –v. to have a medical test find evidence of a disease
lockdown –n. a situation in which people are told to stay in their homes for security reasons
quarantine –n. keeping a person apart from others in an effort to stop the spread of an infectious disease
strain –n. one of several kinds of closely related organisms
smuggling –n. to move people from one country to another illegally or secretly