After 99 days of success, virus returns to haunt Vietnam

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A woman walks past a row of T-shirts printed with Vietnamese flags in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday, Jul.30, 2020. For 99 days, Vietnam seemed to have defeated the coronavirus, but now a new outbreak in the city of Da Nang has grown to over 40 cases in six cities and authorities are beginning to reimpose broader restrictions. (AP Photo/Hau Dinh)

HANOI – For 99 days, Vietnam seemed to have defeated the coronavirus. There wasn’t a single reported case of community transmission. Not a single death. A handful of cases were caught and isolated at the border, but otherwise people were returning to their normal lives. The country of 96 million people was hailed globally as a standout success.

But then a week ago, an outbreak began that has now grown to 48 cases in six parts of the country, including three of the largest cities, and forced authorities to reimpose restrictions many thought they had put behind them. And experts worry the outbreak could be much larger than currently known.

The outbreak began last Thursday in the picturesque coastal city of Da Nang, where thousands of tourists were taking their summer vacations on golden beaches. A 57-year-old man was hospitalized with a fever and tested positive. His condition soon worsened and he was put on a ventilator.

Health authorities swung into action. But the man’s case was puzzling. He hadn’t left his hometown for over a month and tests on his family and 100 other possible contacts all came back negative.

Then health workers found three other infections in Da Nang over the weekend. And then on Monday, another 11. All of those were other patients or health workers at the Da Nang Hospital, where the man remains in critical condition.

On Monday, authorities encouraged 80,000 tourists to leave the city by providing extra flights. Hotels emptied out and thousands canceled their plans to visit.

Then on Tuesday, the city was put into lockdown. The packed beaches were closed, roamed only by patrolling security guards. But the order of events left some scratching their heads. Surely the fleeing tourists had the potential to spread the virus further?

Indeed by Thursday, authorities had found 43 cases, including two people in the capital, Hanoi. All of the cases seemed to link back to Da Nang and returning travelers.