Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
This week as the COVID-19 booster jab schedules have been unrolled around the country, Việt Nam has topped 3 million coronavirus patients and the number is still rising fast.
For weeks, Hà Nội has topped the country's list with the highest recorded numbers of new patients. One week after the city's education authority ordered all school students back to school, only two days before the back-to-school date, it ordered pupils to continue studying online from home.
In the city's high schools, the number of positive cases spread so fast that classes had to resume online. In a class of 20 at Hà Nội-Amsterdam High School for the Gifted, eight students tested positive, six others had to stay home for further surveillance, while the remaining six had to study online.
"It looks like when kids are back at school, the contagion rate rose really fast," said a concerned parent in the school online group.
Others expect that if the rate rises fast, we will reach herd immunity quickly and can treat COVID-19 just like it is normal flu.
For normal flu, we have been treating it with herbal medication. Xuyên tâm liên, a popular local herbal medicine, is now produced and marketed under the name XuTaLi.
"Have you stocked on any XuTaLi, I've got a supply source with good price?" asked my friends in a shopping group.
I thought it wouldn't hurt if I have a few boxes at home to feel prepared. But I later found out that it is not recommended to treat COVID at all. It was just word-of-mouth rumours.
A couple of days ago, doctors warned against Russian medication being carried into Việt Nam as hand luggage. Even when the packages have names on them, people tend to call them by the colour on the packaging, blue or red, and have no real idea what they're talking about. Such behaviour is reckless and dangerous.
Hà Quang Tuyến, head of the Pharmaceutical Department at Hà Nội's Medical University Hospital warned, "It's alarming that now people are stocking up on medication to treat COVID-19 on their own judgement or asking Dr Google."
Catering to people's anxiety, illegal drug traders have advertised that special medication from Russia and China can cure COVID-19 without prescription.
"These medications get sold in Facebook and Zalo group chats, where members can buy them easily without prescription," pharmacist Tuyến warned.
Citing the medical literature on experimental use and the efficacy of these drugs, the pharmacist warned people not to waste money on illegal and unreliable drugs.
"These drugs have not been authorised by Việt Nam's pharmaceutical authorities to be regulated in the country," he said.
"If these medications can be used for COVID-19, they need to be prescribed by doctors on particular patients, and cannot be just taken recklessly at home."
Other doctors also warned people not to get involved in bringing illegal drugs across the border.
Dr Nguyễn Lân Hiếu, director of Hà Nội Medical University Hospital, said people needed to know that the cure rate of vaccinated patients infected with Omicron was very high, and there was no need "to stuff yourself with unnecessary medications".
The past week was very stressful for practising doctors in Hà Nội because of the soaring number of patients.
Helpful information to help patients treat themselves at home can be found on the mainstream media web portals of the Ministry of Health.
Other doctors also updated their daily work treating patients for the public. If you've just recovered from getting infected with the Delta variant, chances are that you're still capable of getting infected with Omicron. So do not be neglectful and practise the health rules.
If someone in your family gets infected, what can you do so that others do not get infected?
Doctors advise rinsing your nasal respiratory tracts and throat three to four times a day with povidone-iodine, hoặc chlorhexidine, or sodium bicarbonate liquids available at most pharmacies. Be sure to check that they are appropriate when buying them.
If you do test positive, don’t panic. You need to have SpO2, an oxygen meter to check the level of oxygen in your blood. If the result shows that your oxygen level goes below 95 per cent and cannot go higher, you need to go to the hospital.
Other than this, rest well, eat well and keep yourself isolated so as not to spread the virus to other members of the family. You can take one multivitamin per day. Make sure to stay hydrated. Treat the symptoms like you would treat the normal flu.
Check with a doctor if you need to take anti-virus medication or anti-biotics.
Another important question is when should you take a patient to the hospital? Using your oxygen meter, when the oxygen level falls below 95 per cent and does not improve, a patient needs to be hospitalised.
Doctors have also warned that if a patient's with a low level of oxygen when lying on his or her back gets improved when lying on his or her chest, they need immediate medical assistance in a hospital.
Before you head to any hospital, you need to check with the health authority to find out which hospital you can take your patient to. Have the number and address for your local ward hospital and those nearby ready. You might need to try a few as they may be overcrowded and not able to take in any more patients.
Looking at those XuTaLi boxes staring at me from the shelf, I told myself to calm down and follow some basic health rules: wear your mask, wash your hands regularly, no gathering, and no staying in a stuffy space for too long. I need to set a time to wash my hands, and rinse my nose and throat with lukewarm liquids.
This pandemic shall subside someday. Let's hope so at least, and then we can get back to living normal lives. But for now, stay safe. VNS