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Coronavirus Update: 30 Cases in Total; 13 New Cases Linked to London–Hanoi Flight

It was a grim weekend for Vietnam as, after three weeks with no new Covid-19 cases and 100% recovery rate, the number of patients who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus ballooned to 30.

The first case after more than three weeks of no new cases

The most high-profile case was NHN, a 27-year-old Hanoian who came back to the capital on March 4. N was Vietnam’s 17th coronavirus patient and the first new case in weeks after the 16th case was treated and discharged on February 26.

At an urgent press conference on the evening of March 6, Hanoi authorities presented Case 17’s travel history before she landed at Noi Bai. N flew to London from Hanoi on February 16 and stayed at her sister’s residence in England. During the trip, she also traveled to Milan and Paris before returning to London and leaving on March 1. She returned to Hanoi at 4:30am on March 2 on Vietnam Airlines flight VN0054.

N started feeling ill on February 29, though she didn’t develop a fever until after she returned to Vietnam. She remained at home from March 2–5 with worsening symptoms. She visited Hong Ngoc Hospital for a check-up on March 5 and was later moved to the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases 2. N tested positive for Covid-19 at 9:30pm on March 6. Her sister, who remains in London, is also a confirmed case.

According to Khong Minh Tuan, deputy director of the Hanoi Centre for Disease Control, on March 2, N was required to declare her travel history when she landed at Noi Bai, but she did not provide a complete history and was able to return home without being quarantined. “When she finished [filling in the form], we questioned her but she insisted that she came in from England without traveling to other countries,” Tuan told Zing in Vietnamese.

From 16 to 30

Meanwhile, the health ministry also announced Case 18 on March 7, a 27-year-old who returned to Vietnam from Busan, South Korea on March 4. He has been in quarantine in Ninh Binh since landing at Van Don Airport.

On March 7, Case 19 and 20 were confirmed by the ministry; they are N’s 64-year-old aunt, who lives in the same house, and the family driver who drove N home from the airport. The following day, Case 21 was announced, a 61-year-old resident of Truc Bach, Hanoi who sat in the same row as Case 17 on the flight from England to Hanoi.

Apart from Vietnamese cases, by the end of March 8, Vietnam had reported an additional nine cases (seven British, one Irish and one Mexican) who were foreign tourists traveling on flight VN0054 — four were tracked down in Quang Ninh, two were in Lao Cai, two were in Da Nang, and the final one was in Hue. Four of the passengers (three from the UK, one from Mexico) sat in business class near Case 17 and 21.

What’s being done

Since then, Hanoi has put Truc Bach Street, where Case 17’s house is located, on lockdown and disinfected the area. A total of 66 households with 189 people were tested for the virus; as of March 8, 86 samples were negative. Health officials in the capital have also conducted contact tracing and quarantined nearly 200 people who have interacted with the four patients in the city. Others who have had second, third, and fourth contact levels are also having their condition monitored.

Saigon has identified and tested 20 people who had contact with Case 17 on the flight. They have all tested negative for the virus, though a 14-day quarantine is still required.

News of the infected foreign tourists, however, may spell bad news for Vietnam’s already-struggling tourism industry. Vietnam recently suspended visa waivers for eight European countries hit hard by Covid-19 — Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain. The National Steering Committee for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19 also proposed similar restrictions to countries with more than 500 cases or more than 50 new cases a day. The suspension is already in place for nationals from South Korea and Italy. This does not mean all visas are suspended, but nationals from these countries will have to apply in advance.

Moreover, across the country, numerous hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions have been closed because of contact with the infected tourists, including a golf course at Ba Na Hills, a Pizza 4P’s outlet in Da Nang and the Hotel Metropole Hanoi. Those with various levels of contact with the tourists have also been identified and their health is being monitored. The Metropole has reportedly re-opened to some extent.

According to Deputy Minister Vu Duc Dam in a recent meeting, mandating a health declaration for visitors is no longer enough. He suggested that ministries and telecommunications providers urgently devise a way to get all Vietnamese residents to carry out health declaration from March 10.

As of March 9, both Hanoi and Saigon have extended the break for students at all public schools until March 15. Previously, Saigon students in Grade 12 were supposed to return to school today, March 9, but due to the new cases, they will have to stay home for at least another week.