Vietnam recorded its first deaths from the coronavirus yesterday, as it shuttered bars and suspended events in its biggest cities in an effort to contain the threat from Danang, the epicentre of the latest outbreak.
The coastal tourism hub logged 82 new Covid-19 infections yesterday, the single biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases. Many of them were individuals who had been isolated since new community transmissions were first detected last weekend.
The virus' first fatalities in Vietnam were two men, aged 70 and 61 respectively, who both died in hospital in Danang, according to news reports. A third patient, a 68-year-old woman, died on Saturday (Aug 1), also in Danang.
Before this outbreak, Vietnam had not recorded any local transmission for close to 100 days and appeared to have emerged from the pandemic ahead of its South-east Asia peers through a system of mass quarantine and testing.
With Vietnam's borders closed to almost all foreigners since March, locals had lowered their guard about wearing masks and social distancing in public. Many also redoubled their holidays around the country on discounted airfares and hotel rates offered by businesses trying to restart the pandemic-battered tourism industry.
Danang is now in the middle of a 15-day lockdown, with even takeaway food and drink services suspended. The authorities are converting a stadium into a field hospital. All construction work in Danang has been halted with effect from yesterday, said local media reports.
Danang resident Huynh Viet said the atmosphere there was calm.
"Initially, people panicked a bit and bought up all the food they could," the 32-year-old information technology professional told The Straits Times. "But after three days, they have calmed down and are now staying home."
In a dispatch dated Thursday, Mr Le Trung Chinh, the vice-chairman of the Danang people's committee, said the source of this outbreak has still not been identified.
Professor Guy Thwaites, the Ho Chi Minh City-based director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, a clinical and public health research organisation, praised Vietnam's government for responding "quickly and decisively" to this outbreak.
"They are tracking or have isolated more than 80,000 people and there is a huge amount of testing being done," he told The Straits Times.
EXTENT OF OUTBREAK UNCERTAIN
They are tracking or have isolated more than 80,000 people and there is a huge amount of testing being done. The uncertainty rests in how far this has spread out in the community, because it's pretty clear the infection probably had been in Danang or the region for the last few weeks undetected.
PROFESSOR GUY THWAITES, Ho Chi Minh City-based director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit.
"The uncertainty rests in how far this has spread out in the community, because it's pretty clear the infection probably had been in Danang or the region for the last few weeks undetected."
In the nearby tourist haunt of Hoi An, in Quang Nam province, a similar stay-home order is in place.
In the southern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, nightlife essentially came to a halt from yesterday with the closure of bars and clubs, and the suspension of festivals, fairs and non-urgent meetings. Public gatherings of more than 30 people are banned, mirroring similar restrictions placed on the capital Hanoi earlier this week.
Since the start of the pandemic, Vietnam has recorded 546 infections.