By Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen
HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam is in the midst of a “decisive” fight against the novel coronavirus, its premier said on Monday, focusing on the city of Danang where infections have appeared in four factories with a combined workforce of 3,700.
Vietnam, widely praised for its mitigation efforts since the coronavirus appeared in late January, is battling several new clusters of infection linked to Danang after going more than three months without detecting any domestic transmission.
“We have to deploy full force to curb all known epicentres, especially those in Danang,” official broadcaster Vietnam Television quoted Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc telling government officials.
“Early August will be the decisive time within which to stop the virus from spreading on a large scale.”
The Southeast Asian country of 96 million has confirmed at least 642 infections, with six deaths.
Authorities on Monday reported 22 new cases linked to Danang, in central Vietnam and a tourism hot spot where the country’s first domestically transmitted case in 100 days was detected on July 25.
The source of the new outbreak is unclear but it has spread to at least 10 places, including the capital Hanoi in the north and the business hub of Ho Chi Minh City in the south, infecting almost 200 people and killing six.
Four cases were found at factories in different industrial parks in Danang that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said.
MORE CONTAGIOUS STRAIN
Vietnam does not plan to introduce a widespread lockdown beyond areas considered to be epicentres of the current outbreak, a government spokesman said on Monday,
“If there’s an infection in a hamlet, we will lock down that hamlet only, not the whole district or the whole province,” government spokesman Mai Tien Dung told a monthly news conference.
The government said on Saturday it planned to test Danang’s entire population of 1.1 million people, part of “unprecedented measures” to fight the outbreak. Danang imposed a lockdown last week, banning movement in and out of the coastal city and closing entertainment venues.
Buon Ma Thuot, a city in Vietnam’s coffee-growing Central Highlands region, was also placed under lockdown on Monday, state media reported.
Twenty-three percent of the latest infections are asymptomatic, the government said, meaning people infected with the virus do not show symptoms of the COVID-19 respiratory sickness it causes.
Phuc said the new outbreak could have a more critical impact than previous waves of infection.
Authorities said on Sunday the strain of virus detected in Danang was a more contagious one, and that each infected person could infect 5-6 people, compared with 1.8-2.2 for infections earlier in the year.
Vietnam has carried out 52,000 tests for the coronavirus in the past seven days, according to a Reuters analysis of official data. Health ministry data does not include rapid tests used for mass screening.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu and Phuong Nguyen; Writing by James Pearson; Editing by Martin Petty and Mark Heinrich)