Vietnam has announced a national lockdown to fight COVID-19, with nearly 100 million people ordered not to go outside except for food and medical needs, the most extreme measure taken yet after the nation had early success in limiting its first wave of infections.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc signed a directive Tuesday that requires people to stay inside for 15 days, starting Wednesday. That includes shutting down most businesses, except those deemed essential, at a time when many foreign investors are shifting production from China to Vietnam, in part because the virus forced them to close their businesses in China.
The Vietnamese government said on its website it is proceeding “with the principle of every household, village, commune, district, and province going into self-isolation.”
The government announcement blared through speakers on the streets of Hanoi, the capital, as residents bought last-minute items before hunkering down on Tuesday.
Prior to the announcement, the Southeast Asian nation had won international praise for its response to the coronavirus, with officials acting quickly to quarantine patients and trace contacts. Despite having fewer resources as a developing nation, Vietnam limited the first wave of infections that began in January, though a second wave has now brought the number of cases to 204 as of Monday, with no reported deaths.
Vietnam’s national isolation order this week came after more than a dozen people linked to one of its biggest hospitals, Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, tested positive for COVID-19. Authorities are tracing contacts and advising the more than 10,000 people who have been at that hospital since March 12 to get tested.
People have been ordered to stay two meters apart while outside and limit gatherings to no more than two people, except for at schools, hospitals, and businesses that are allowed to stay open.
Vietnam linked the second wave of COVID-19 infections largely to foreigners entering the nation after it had appeared to contain the first wave. After reports that local businesses, such as bars, were discriminating against foreigners because of the virus, the prime minister spoke out against discrimination. One of the recent cases was an American woman in the central city of Danang, who was recovered after her attempt to leave quarantine, local media reported.
“The U.S. embassy and consulate in Vietnam advise U.S. citizens to abide by government of Vietnam regulations,” the embassy said.
Having experience responding to SARS, avian flu, and other epidemics, Vietnam acted quickly on the early signs of COVID-19 in January. The authorities carried out selective testing and quarantined potential cases. Other measures followed one by one, including moves to close schools, ration surgical masks, cancel some flights, and then close entry to most foreigners.
The government has also asked all citizens to fill out a health declarations online and sent regular text message updates nationwide. It gives daily updates on infections to the media, which reports each infected person as a case number and announces flights and locations linked to infections, asking people to report to the hospital if they have been on those flights or at those locations. In some situations where testing is ordered for entire buildings, managers ask residents to speak up if they know that neighbors are avoiding tests.
The World Health Organization is among the groups that praised Vietnam for its virus response.
“We are committed to continue working with the Ministry of Health and other partners to ensure the country’s continued and quality testing for this new virus,” Kidong Park, the WHO representative in Vietnam, said.
Before this week, some restaurants, offices and other businesses were suspending operations on a selective basis. At some grocery stores, workers dispensed hand gel on customers' hands at the entrance, while condo security guards checked people's temperature in lobbies. However those measures were scattered around the nation, while the prime minister’s order Tuesday has now made sheltering in place generally uniform across Vietnam until mid-April.