Stores closed and streets mostly empty on May 13, first day of city-wide social distancing order in the northern city of Hoà Bình, due to COVID-19 clusters. — VNA/VNS Photo Trọng Đạt
Health minister Nguyễn Thanh Long talks with local media about the current fourth wave of infections hitting the country and whether the time is right for another comprehensive lockdown.
What is the current COVID-19 situation in the country?
Up until now, most localities have controlled the outbreaks, but further effort is needed in the two northern provinces Bắc Ninh and Bắc Giang.
Because the growing outbreak in Bắc Giang is in an industrial zone, and in a factory with lots of workers in high-density settings, the distance between workers in their workplace is heavily limited, so when the outbreak hits, the virus would easily sweep through the entire area.
Bắc Giang as of Monday has collected some 200,000 samples for COVID-19 testing, this is a major endeavour by the province in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
It’s certain that there will be more new cases in the coming days, but most are detected within already locked down areas. We hope that Bắc Giang would soon be able to rein in the outbreaks.
Bắc Ninh Province is also at high risk due to the geographical closeness and the industrial zones in Bắc Ninh also have high density issues, but so far, the situation here has not ballooned out of control. We expect the province to soon put the outbreaks under control to better achieve the dual goals of pandemic containment and socio-economic development.
The daily community cases in the past few days have shot up to record levels, reaching three-digit numbers, but the health authorities still claim that the outbreaks have been contained and there is no need for a wider lockdown/social distancing campaign?
The Government’s Decree 15 and 16 provides authorisation for localities to decide the imposition of appropriate lockdown and social distancing measures based on the local outbreak situation.
But social distancing campaigns imposed on an entire province would need to be reported to the Government.
The lockdown scale must be commensurate to the outbreak situation so that the containment measures should not heavily affect socio-economic development and people’s livelihoods. This falls on the local authorities to make informed and correct assessments of the situation.
Testing has proved key in containing the disease. What are the changes in testing strategy?
This time, we have made radical changes, testing and screening for COVID-19 at a larger scale.
Previously, we only used one type of testing RT-PCR [which is more reliable but more time-consuming, expensive, and requires specialised equipment], but now the health ministry has licenced and allowed the use of rapid antigen biological products.
With coronavirus antigen test bioassay for rapid detection, health workers can do COVID-19 testing on the spot. For example, factories can use rapid antigen to test the employed workers fairly regularly, or recreational and entertainment venues at high risks of exposure could also screen the customers on their own with not much time.
We have urged domestic manufacturers to ramp up testing biological production, as well as look for more import sources to expand testing capacity.
The health ministry will continue to balance the use of antigen and antibody tests to evaluate the COVID-19 situation and issued appropriate guidelines on medical quarantine and centralised quarantine protocols for experts and or other arrivals - including fully vaccinated people – into Việt Nam.
Our strategy has been adjusted to enhance testing capacity and deal with outbreaks and ensure prevention efforts. — VNS