TAIPEI, TAIWAN - Vietnamese officials are rushing to control a sudden new outbreak of COVID-19 after reporting one of the world’s most successful control efforts earlier in the year.
Authorities in the Southeast Asian country sealed off the central coast tourist city Danang Sunday after two people tested positive for the deadly atypical pneumonia, domestic media reports say. The new spike in and near Danang had grown to 30 cases as of early Wednesday, mostly traced to a local hospital.
People elsewhere in the economically booming country of 97 million worry that the Danang infections will spread outward and spark another nationwide shutdown like the one ordered for about a month through late April.
“It could be another outbreak, and it’s really sort of scared the Vietnamese, because they thought they’d gotten through it all, but as the rest of the world discovered, this thing spreads much quicker than you think,” said Adam McCarty, chief economist with Mekong Economics in Hanoi.
While Vietnam’s latest figures still hardly match the hundreds of daily cases still being reported in much of the world, the country prides itself on throttling the disease earlier in the year with no deaths to date. Vietnam had gone without transmission for 99 days through Saturday and its domestic economy roared back to life by May.
Halts to flights and strict quarantine rules have kept the overall caseload to 446 including the latest outbreak. As of Tuesday, 369 people had recovered.
The 1.1 million-population city of Danang quit taking domestic tourists for 14 days, halted many gatherings and shuttered non-essential services such as bars and amusement parks, domestic news website VnExpress International reported.
Flights, buses, taxis, and trains to and from Da Nang are suspended too, business consultancy Dezan Shira & Associates says on its website. Thousands of tourists there now must remain.
“We’re hoping it doesn’t spread out, because if it does, they’ll do another lockdown, and it’s going to impact business hard,” said Jack Nguyen, partner in the business advisory firm Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City. “I don’t think the country can sustain another lockdown.”
Quang Nam, a province bordering Danang, planned starting Wednesday to close bars, internet shops, cinemas and other spots to stop any disease spread there, the news website reported.
“Danang is done,” Nguyen said. “There are no tourists coming in or out."
Vietnam’s GDP is forecast to grow 3% to 4% this year with factory work running again after the earlier shutdowns. Domestic travel roared back as people were encouraged to fly domestically and join tours.
The cases in Danang disappointed tourism operators after the post-shutdown boom, said Phuong Hong, a hotel chain employee in Ho Chi Minh City. Her nationwide chain’s two Danang properties are closed again and handing out refunds for guests booked through August.
But people overall feel confident because officials have shown they know how to stop the virus spread, she said. Travelers who returned from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City before the city closure are getting their health checked and isolating themselves, Phuong has found. Face mask prices have tripled over the past week, she noted.
“We have the experience for the first time already, so let’s see how it works for this trend,” Phuong said. “Maybe some cases will become more, not only Danang but also another city, I don’t know yet so far, but we are more calmed down.”
At one travel agency, more than 20,000 patrons had canceled their holidays around Vietnam as of July 26, the news website said.
If the virus jumps past Danang, the country will probably order shutdowns of specific cities with the eventual goal of total disease eradication, McCarty said. “They’re really organized now, so they know what to do,” he said.