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Vietnamese officials thought they had the coronavirus under control. And for months, they were right. Through strict measures swiftly imposed, Vietnam had virtually eliminated the coronavirus within its borders by late April.
Now the virus seems to be spreading. As of Monday night in Vietnam, 11 new cases had been reported, bringing the country’s total to 431 and sparking a litany of new virus control measures.
The new patients range in age between 24 and 70, the state-run news agency said. Four of those infected are health workers at the Da Nang Hospital.
Now the country is evacuating 80,000 people from Da Nang, a popular domestic tourist destination. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered extensive testing across the city, as well as increased contact tracing. According to state-run media, nearly 12,000 people are under quarantine.
Vietnam had been held up as a model country after it had only a few hundred cases and zero deaths as of the end of April. The Southeast Asian nation lifted its strict quarantine measures and life, slowly, started to return to something resembling normalcy. Though most international tourists still can’t visit, the country reopened its borders a crack last month, allowing flights from Japan.
The country still has zero reported deaths from the virus, but the new cases of infection show just how difficult it is to control, even for countries that have had success.
“The pandemic is still quite active worldwide and controlling it remains challenging,” David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells NPR. “The majority of people around the world are still susceptible to this infection, so new waves of activity can occur if a single case enters a population where disease was previously tamped down.”
It’s important, Aronoff says, for countries to have plans on what to do if COVID-19 infection heats up in places where it was previously under control.
Until a vaccine is developed, the novel coronavirus will continue to be with us, said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. And since many cases are mild, the virus might have been spreading through countries without ever coming to the attention of public health authorities, he said.
“Just because you’re not hearing about cases does not mean that they are not present,” he tells NPR. “Complacency with a virus like this will lead to flare-ups.”