All Eyes on Ho Chi Minh City
As an evangelical sect becomes a new cluster
Good morning. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this has been a bad week for Vietnam; statistically, the worst of the entire pandemic. If you’re reading this through a shared link, please sign up to receive future editions below.
On to the news.
Ho Chi Minh City’s Luck Runs Out
Let’s get some raw numbers out of the way first: on Monday morning, this ongoing outbreak had accounted for 2,164 cases - a figure that is now 3,295, along with 11 deaths. This brings Vietnam’s case total for the pandemic to 6,356 (3,453 are active), and 46 deaths.
Tuesday alone saw 444 cases announced, obliterating the country’s previous single-day case record, which had already been set and broken several times during this wave.
The big news is the emergence of a new cluster in HCMC yesterday, ending the city’s frankly miraculous general avoidance of this surge (though it’s now clear the virus has been present for some time without detection).
On Wednesday, three members of a local evangelical sect visited a hospital in Binh Thanh District with respiratory conditions. They were isolated and tested, and were positive for COVID-19.
Contact tracing and testing found 33 more cases through Thursday night, all linked to the sect (29 members, seven close contacts), with positive cases spread across 16 districts, including a chef at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. 53% of these people have shown COVID-19 symptoms - which is high.
The group in question is the Revival Ekklesia Mission, with an address in Go Vap District. According to their Facebook page, the mission is “a Christian charismatic congregation in fervent prayers for Revival and Salvation in Jesus Christ’s name for everyone.” It was founded “in the 1990s” by two missionaries named Phuong Van Tan and Vo Xuan Loan.
Numerous locations around town, including the Sheraton, have been isolated, and more of this can be expected as contact tracing expands.
The initial source of this cluster is not currently known, while health officials have said it’s possible that the virus has been present for some time, given the number of positive F1 cases.
This morning, the Mekong Delta province of Long An reported its first case as part of this wave - another employee in the kitchen of the Sheraton.
HCMC’s government has responded by increasing restrictions, with gatherings of more than 10 people banned (previously 20), the shuttering of religious establishments, beauty salons and barbershops shut down, and all restaurants and cafes having to switch to take-away or delivery only. (Previously this had only applied to street-side eateries.) Repatriation flights and charter flights bringing in foreign experts have also been suspended from landing in the city.
This is complicated, to say the least, and case numbers in the city are sure to increase (a bakery and an apartment tower in Thao Dien were blockaded yesterday afternoon in relation to a case, and that’s just in my neighborhood).
Sadly, this is also not surprising: people have been complacent here in HCMC, even with huge numbers being reported from northern provinces, and over 100 restaurants in one district alone have been fined in the last 10 days for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.
Elsewhere in the country, thousands of workers in Bac Giang Province, the overall epicenter with 1,678 cases in this wave, are struggling amid a hard lockdown and food supply problems. That province has also begun to use the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) in order to speed up testing. Given the huge case numbers there, one has to wonder how long the virus was circulating without detection for.
Both Bac Giang and Bac Ninh Province have begun vaccinating industrial park workers, which is extremely important at this point.
Hanoi had problems this week as well, with 17 cases stemming from four new clusters, the largest of which are at a company called T&T Group and a building in the huge Times City Vinhomes development. As of now, the sources of those clusters have not been identified. (The Times City one appears to have started from a mother and child from India who had completed 21 days of hotel quarantine and were in the middle of their 7 days of home isolation - that raises questions of its own.)
And, bafflingly, Quang Nam Province (home to Hoi An) has reopened bars and tourist attractions, even though officials in numerous provinces are advising residents to stay home as much as possible.
In vaccine news, 288,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca doses arrived in HCMC this week, part of Vietnam’s contract for 30 million doses. This means the country has received about 2.9 million doses of the vaccine so far, though only 29,000 or so people have been fully vaccinated. (Roughly 1 million people have gotten one shot.)
And the vaccine tours mentioned last week that a couple of Vietnamese travel companies proposed have already been nixed by the government.
I was hoping to cover more than just COVID-19 this week, but staying on top of all this for my own safety has been fairly exhausting - and there’s also just not much going on.
Meet Vietnam’s bobsledders, the country’s most unlikely sports team (Southeast Asia Globe)
Thạch Sùng: A Muse in Every Home (Saigoneer)
Have a great weekend, and stay safe.