Vietnam’s health ministry on Thursday confirmed its first two locally transmitted Covid-19 cases in nearly two months.
Though an infinitesimal number compared with new coronavirus infections in many countries, the two cases are a shock and a blow for Vietnam.
They come at a bad time, just weeks before the country’s Tet Lunar New Year holiday period, the biggest and most popular festival of the year in Vietnam when big gatherings indoors are expected. This year Tet runs from Feb 10 to 16.
One of the patients is a worker at Van Don international airport who was responsible for taking infected passengers arriving from abroad to quarantine facilities.
The other is a factory worker who came into contact with a Vietnamese national who later travelled to Japan and tested positive there.
“The airport staff worker has been to several public places, including hospital,” the health ministry said in its statement.
Following the announcement, Vietnam’s health ministry ordered provinces and state agencies to tighten screening and controls.
Contact tracing efforts were launched in the two northern provinces where the new infections were detected.
One case was linked to the new rapid-spreading UK variant of the virus, so a village in Hai Duong was locked down, according to state media.
“We have to make all efforts to locate the infected areas within 10 days to put down the outbreak,” Vu Duc Dam, head of the national Covid-19 task force said.
In awkward timing for the country’s government, the two new cases also came as the ruling Communist Party gathers in Hanoi for its five-yearly congress to pick new leadership, with 1,600 delegates from across Vietnam in attendance.
As soon as the new cases were announced, the wearing of face masks was made compulsory at the congress venue for the first time.
Vietnam’s stringent anti-coronavirus steps helped quickly contain its earlier coronavirus outbreaks, allowing it to resume its economic activities before much of Asia, although the country remained effectively sealed off from the rest of the world.
Thanks to strict quarantine, testing and tracing measures, the country had reported only 1,551 cases and 35 deaths before Thursday, earning it a place in the top three in a survey of countries which serve as models for how to handle the pandemic.