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Fourth COVID-19 wave not off the table: Vietnam health minister

Tuesday, April 27, 2021, 17:27 GMT+7
Fourth COVID-19 wave not off the table: Vietnam health minister
Nguyen Thanh Long, Vietnam’s Minister of Health, speaks at a meeting on COVID-19 prevention in Can Tho City, Vietnam, April 26, 2021. Photo: T.Luy / Tuoi Tre

As unpredictable developments of COVID-19 transmission in neighboring countries pose an immense threat to Vietnam, Nguyen Thanh Long, the Southeast Asian nation’s Minister of Health, called for escalation of epidemiological measures as well as strict maintenance of COVID-19 prevention protocols in public.

The statement was made by Minister Long during a meeting with the municipal Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control of the southern city of Can Tho on Monday.

Looming outbreak threat

The minister reinforced the intensity of the current COVID-19 situation, especially for southwest areas that adjoin Cambodia, a neighboring country that on Sunday saw its daily death toll from the virus rise to an all-time high of 10 victims.

In light of the emerging threats, the Ministry of Health has sent five cohorts to southwest provinces and cities to guide and fortify coronavirus prevention work on site.

The ministry has warned that the possibility of a fourth outbreak cannot be taken off the table, with the third starting to hit the country in January this year and the remaining happening last year.

For Can Tho City, a hotspot area where many paths for cargo transportation and passenger travel cross, Long also suggested strict compliance with the 5K recommendations, namely 'Khau trang' (face mask donning) - 'Khu khuan' (disinfection) - 'Khoang cach' (distancing) - 'Khong tu tap' (no gathering) - 'Khai bao y te' (health declaration).

After Phnom Penh and other locales of Cambodia reinstated social distancing, Can Tho is recommended to pre-empt a large wave of Vietnamese repatriates coming to the city via both legal and illegal routes.

They may carry the pathogen back into Vietnam and trigger another outbreak, the ministry cautioned.

Hence, the city is prioritizing fending off illegal entrants via diligent border monitoring.

As per the Ministry of Health’s observation, a concerning number of residents, as well as officials, are negligent of the COVID-19 prevention guidelines, forming big crowds in public and failing to wear face masks.

Transmission risks also come from inbound travelers who arrive at Can Tho International Airport as foreign experts or Vietnamese returnees.

For this reason, the municipal Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control is required to reassess all scenarios, while outlining high-risk areas correctly to perform mass testing if needed and avoiding disruption of civilian business operations.

The city should augment the capacity of quarantine centers by both expanding current facilities and introducing new ones at commune and ward levels.

Reintroducing fast responses

Reporting to the minister, Nguyen Phuoc Ton, deputy managing director of the Can Tho Department of Health, affirmed that the city is rolling out urgent measures in response to the complicated developments of the pandemic in Cambodia, which shares a border with the locale.

The local health authority has reactivated the fast response system, which was first introduced during the earlier outbreaks in 2020 and involves teams of doctors, public health experts, and officers who take charge of contact tracing, fumigation, and other on-site tasks to curb transmission in high-risk areas, Ton said.

Since the virus first hit Vietnam in January 2020, the city has implemented screened and tested 12,605 cases at high risk of infection, using the real time-PCR technique, he added.

Can Tho only has as yet recorded ten cases of coronavirus infection, all of whom have fully recovered. 

In another prevention effort, the city has founded 2,833 community-based prevention teams, which enlists local dwellers as watchdogs of COVID-19 threats from within the community and newcomers in their residential areas.

The municipal Department of Health is striving to maintain other operations, including contact tracing, area outlining, quarantining, and testing for cases at risk of transmission.

Raising test capacity

Luong Ngoc Khue, director of the Administration of Medical Examination and Treatment under the Ministry of Health, requires Can Tho to scan all medical facilities and close those unqualified as per COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

Hospitals must strictly comply with medical screening and testing to identify the pathogen in the community, as well as assisting other provinces in the region when necessary.

Phan Trong Lan, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute, commended Can Tho for their progress in medical screening, with three facilities qualified to confirm COVID-19 test results.

However, the city should continue to boost their proficiency in testing and set up more quarantine centers.

Can Tho’s capacity for COVID-19 testing is floating around 700 samples per day.

As of Tuesday morning, Vietnam has documented 2,852 cases, with 2,516 recoveries and 35 deaths. 

Meanwhile, the pandemic situation in neighboring countries has become increasingly complicated.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Cambodia has surged to nearly 10,000, with daily spikes recorded in the hundreds, while its fatalities have risen to 74.

Thailand’s tally has increased to 55,460, with 140 deaths, whereas Laos has locked down its capital to prevent transmission.

In light of these developments, the Ho Chi Minh City administration has called off all fireworks displays that were previously planned for the celebration of this year’s Reunification Day (April 30).

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