Vietnam to ease nationwide coronavirus lockdown

Vietnam to ease nationwide coronavirus lockdown

A farmer rides a bycycle past a poster warning about the coronavirus disease outbreak in Hanoi on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
A farmer rides a bycycle past a poster warning about the coronavirus disease outbreak in Hanoi on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)

HANOI: Vietnam, which has reported under 300 cases of coronavirus and no deaths since the first infections were detected in January, said on Wednesday it would start lifting tough movement restrictions as most of Southeast Asia remained in lockdown.

No provinces in Vietnam were now seen as "highly prone" to the pandemic, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in a statement, although some non-essential businesses will remain closed.

Vietnam has won plaudits for appearing to contain the virus despite being less wealthy than other places seen as relatively successful such as South Korea and Taiwan. It has reported no new infections for nearly a week.

It has used a combination of the mass quarantine of tens of thousands, contact-tracing and testing to successfully contain relatively small clusters of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Hanoi may have also gleaned crucial early information from China.

On Wednesday, US cybersecurity firm FireEye said Vietnamese state-backed hackers had attempted to break into organisations at the centre of Beijing's efforts to contain the outbreak, days before the first international Covid-19 cases were reported.

It also took other early measures. One day after the first two cases were detected in Vietnam, Hanoi suspended flights to China's Wuhan, where the outbreak started.

Days later, Vietnam closed its porous 1,400-km border with China to all but essential trade and travel and, by March, made the wearing of masks in public places mandatory nationwide.

Vietnam, which in 2003 became the first country outside China to be infected by the Sars epidemic, also has by far the largest ratio of testing to confirmed Covid-19 cases in the world.

According to data published by Vietnam's Health Ministry on Wednesday, Vietnam has carried out 180,067 tests and detected just 268 cases, 83% of whom it says have recovered. There have been no reported deaths.

The figures are equivalent to nearly 672 tests for every one detected case, according to the Our World in Data website.

Communist-ruled and traditionally secretive Vietnam has made much of its data public.

Not all of Vietnam will have social distancing measures lifted, state media said. A town of 7,600 people in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang was locked down near the border with China after one case was detected there this month.

Two rural villages with a combined population of 12,000 people on the outskirts of the capital, Hanoi, will remain on lockdown, state media said.

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