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A race against the clock at Buddha Bar, Saigon’s COVID-19 epicenter

Saturday, April 04, 2020, 15:28 GMT+7
A race against the clock at Buddha Bar, Saigon’s COVID-19 epicenter
Medical workers collect health declaration and samples from people related to Buddha Bar in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tran Van Khanh / Tuoi Tre Contributor

Hundreds of workers from specialized forces in Ho Chi Minh City have been involved in a race against the clock to keep the situation in check at District 2’s Buddha Bar, which has been identified as the source of multiple COVID-19 infections in the southern metropolis.

Situated in Thao Dien Ward in District 2 – a neighborhood populated with high-end villas and a vibrant community of foreigners in Ho Chi Minh City – once hyper-popular Buddha Bar these days see most passers-by being medical staff, police and military personnel.

As the nation enjoyed a public holiday on Thursday, Dr. Truong Thanh Trung, head of District 2 Health Division, were busy overseeing works to disinfect a local apartment complex and sample more than 500 of its residents for testing, after a resident had tested positive for the novel coronavirus after visiting Buddha Bar.

“Chances are we would not be able to wrap up until midnight,” Trung told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

On March 14, a Saint Patrick’s Day party was organized at the bar located at No. 7 Thao Dien Street in District 2.

The party has been highlighted as the source of at least 17 infected cases in Ho Chi Minh City, becoming the biggest cluster of infections in southern Vietnam to date.

City officials have referred to the situation as “serial transmission” and mobilized the intervention of medical and public security forces from as early as March 19.

The race to control the outbreak

The first detected case related to Buddha Bar, patient No. 91, was revealed to be a British pilot residing in a high-end apartment in District 2.

The gravity of the situation quickly became clear as 16 other cases had been traced back to the party ten days after the initial revelation, all of whom had directly or indirectly interacted with patient No. 91.

Dr. Tran Van Khanh from District 2 Hospital described Buddha Bar as a critical situation that poses a threat of mass community spread if not handled with conviction.

“All concerns pointed toward patient No. 91 since this person is a pilot who visited many catering and entertainment establishments during the incubation period,” another doctor working on the frontline of the city’s battle against the Buddha Bar outbreak elaborated.

In response to drastic developments of the case, specialized units alongside the Ho Chi Minh City Center for Disease Control (CDC) promptly locked down the bar as well as the residential areas of partygoers for disinfecting and tracking of high-risk individuals.

“All guests, managers and staff members as well as security guards [of Buddha Bar] were diligently tested twice to make sure no person carrying the virus could pose any risk to the community,” Khanh affirmed.

An unconventional obstacle

According to Khanh, the Buddha Bar case is peculiar also because of its demographics. The majority of the bar’s patrons are foreigners residing in high-end apartment complexes in District 2 and neighboring suburban areas of Ho Chi Minh city.

Many of them have not been cooperative, refusing to talk to medical workers who came to their apartments asking for declaration of health.

“For some of them, warnings of harsher measures were needed to get them to comply [with the health declaration request],” Khanh said.

These obstacles entailed greater efforts and time factored in by the special forces.

Nguyen Phuoc Hung, chairman of District 2, said that a task force of a few hundred people was mobilized from March 13 to 17 to trace all at-risk bar goers.

“The progress was particularly hindered due to the fact that the bar’s surveillance system could not identify all entries and exits, whereas some bar goers don’t live in District 2 and only visited the place once,” Hung said.

Despite the drawbacks, 222 suspected cases related to Buddha Bar were identified and duly processed.

This feat achieved by the special units of Ho Chi Minh City is a positive note in the vision of controlling and eradicating COVID-19 in the southern metropolis.

To actualize that vision calls for the assistance of all stakeholders in our community to duly inform authorities of suspected cases, comply with official guidelines, or simply stay home.

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