Vietnam is on high alert and bracing for a big rise in coronavirus cases, after local media reported that infections have been detected in the capital, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the Central Highlands region.
The country’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phu warned on Wednesday that every province and every city was now at risk, and that the virus appeared to have changed.
Vietnam, which has been praised for its response to the pandemic, reported its first local case for more than three months over the weekend, after a man in the central city of Da Nang became ill. Officials have said that at least one of the new infections involves a new strain of the virus that has originated outside of the country.
So far, 30 cases of the virus have been detected in or around Da Nang, though new infections elsewhere in the country have not been confirmed by the ministry of health. There are growing fears that tens of thousands of people holidaying in the coastal city of Da Nang may have transported the virus across the country over recent weeks.
“We have to act more swiftly and more fiercely in order to control the outbreak,” the state broadcaster VTV reported Phuc as telling a meeting of government officials. He said tourist hubs throughout the country should increase vigilance.
The government is evacuating 80,000 people from Da Nang, mostly tourists who had been taking advantage of discounted travel deals, who will now be required to isolate at home. The city has been placed under strict lockdown, with flights suspended.
VTV reported that the cases in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were linked to the cluster in Da Nang.
Life in Vietnam had been returning to normal, with many no longer wearing face masks and domestic tourism booming, but the country is again on high alert. In Hanoi, authorities are tracing people who may have had close contact with a man who works in a pizza restaurant and who is suspected of having Covid-19. Barriers have been placed near to the man’s home, while the restaurant and local area have been disinfected.
In Ho Chi Minh City, a hotel has been locked down and a nearby hospital in Binh Tan district has stopped receiving patients for three days, after two suspected Covid-19 cases emerged.
About 18,000 tourists who had been in Da Nang have returned to Ho Chi Minh City, officials said on Tuesday. Hanoi authorities had earlier said they were expecting 15,000 to 20,000 to return from the city.
The country responded with speed and agility to the pandemic earlier this year, deploying aggressive contact-tracing systems and quarantine measures – avoiding a major outbreak. Despite sharing a border with China, Vietnam has recorded 446 Covid-19 cases, and no fatalities.
The source of the new cases is not clear, though the government has responded with a series of arrests linked to illegal immigration. Vietnam remains shut to most foreign travellers, and anyone who enters the country must quarantine on arrival.