Vietnam suspends flights to and from Danang due to coronavirus outbreak

Passengers queue up for check-in at the departure terminal in Danang International Airport on July 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Vietnam has suspended all flights to and from Danang for 15 days after at least 14 cases of the novel coronavirus were detected in the city, the government said on Tuesday (July 28).

The Southeast Asian country is back on high alert after authorities on Saturday confirmed the first community infections since April, and another three cases on Sunday, all in or around Danang.

A further 11 cases linked to a Danang hospital were reported late on Monday.

All bus and train services to and from Danang have also been suspended from Tuesday, the statement said.

The city, a tourism hot spot, had re-introduced social distancing measures over the weekend after the government confirmed the first domestically-transmitted cases of coronavirus in more than three months.

With over 95 million people, Vietnam is the most populous country in the world to have recorded no Covid-19 fatalities.

Thanks to strict quarantine measures and an aggressive and widespread testing programme, Vietnam has kept its virus total to an impressively low 431 cases.

Two of the Danang cases were in critical condition, Vietnam's health ministry said.

Vietnam is still closed to foreign tourism, but there had been a surge in domestic travellers looking to take advantage of discounted flights and holiday packages to local resorts.

On Monday, the government said it had requested the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) to allow domestic airlines to significantly increase the number of flights from Danang to 11 Vietnamese cities in order to help evacuate 80,000 people, mostly tourists.

"All evacuation flights now are cancelled," CAAV deputy director Vo Huy Cuong told Reuters by phone on Tuesday.

"We operated 90 flights to evacuate tourists stranded in Danang yesterday but most tourists had already left Danang on Sunday, mostly by coach or train to nearby provinces," Cuong said.

Vietnam's first case since April 16 was perhaps the most unnerving: a 57-year-old grandfather who had been in Danang for about a month and hadn't travelled to other provinces.

That has triggered concerns that Vietnam, which has reported a relatively low 431 infections overall, may be vulnerable to imported cases from people crossing the border illegally into the country.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered tighter border and immigration controls. Police have made a number of arrests of Vietnamese and Chinese charged with shepherding people into the country illegally.

Still, Vietnamese health officials, like their counterparts elsewhere, are puzzling over the source of new infections.

Hong Kong, for instance, had enjoyed three months of few local clusters before a surprise resurgence in recent weeks that has turned into its worst wave so far. Infections of unknown origins remain high at about 40 per cent of new cases, reflecting that hidden chains of transmission continue.

Danang's authorities shut down two hospitals where two victims visited and ordered patients, medical staff, caregivers and family members - about 7,000 people in total - to be quarantined for 14 days, local media reported.

A third hospital was also locked down, VnExpress reported.

The city issued a stay-at-home order for 15 days for six of eight districts starting on Tuesday, the local government said on its website.

Residents are prohibited from going out except for essential reasons like buying food and medicine, for health emergencies or working at factories. Residents must keep a two-metre separation from each other.

Furthermore, operations of private vehicles are being restricted.

Meanwhile, other parts of the country are taking precautions. In Hanoi, some 790km to the north of Danang, officials reissued anti-virus mandates - including wearing masks in public areas.

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