Vietnam’s northeastern provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh now lead in new cases of COVID-19 infection in Vietnam since the fourth outbreak of the disease began on April 27, with both provinces under partial lockdown to control the spread, official sources say.
As of Wednesday, 605 cases have been reported in Bac Giang, with 353 cases reported in Bac Ninh.
The Ministry of Health has issued an urgent order to set up two field hospitals to treat the rising numbers of infected, with each hospital staffed by 500 health workers and holding 300 beds, with space prepared for a total of 500 beds each if needed.
Bac Giang has now put three more districts—Lang Giang, Luc Nam, and Yen Dung—under lockdown after earlier locking down Viet Yen district and temporarily closing four of the province’s industrial zones: Van Trung, Quang Chau, Dinh Tram, and Song Khe-Noi Hoang.
Discussions are now under way to close Bac Giang City. In Bac Ninh province, Bac Ninh city has been put under lockdown, with the province’s rural Yen Phong district closed beginning Wednesday.
Two new COVID-19 variants—B.1.222 and B.1.619—have now been detected in sampling carried out by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health, bringing the total number of variants found in the country’s outbreak to date to seven.
Earlier variants from Europe and the UK had caused the outbreak in Da Nang last summer and in Hai Duong earlier this year, while the B.1.617.2 variant from India is causing the current surge of new cases in 28 of Vietnam’s cities and provinces.
Variants from South Africa and Rwanda have also been found in Vietnam, health officials say.
Vietnam is now in talks with U.S. producers to purchase the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine following urgent calls by Vietnam’s prime minister to the Ministry of Health to secure more sources of vaccines so that mass inoculations can be carried out. Pfizer’s suggested purchase price was not disclosed, but Vietnam has until May 25 to respond to Pfizer’s offer, Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said.
With case numbers climbing in the country, Vietnam’s Hong Ngoc Ha Travel Agency is offering eight-day “vaccination tours” to the U.S., featuring inoculation with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and a stay in a three-star hotel, costing around U.S. $2,000.
Travelers on their return must complete 21 days of mandatory quarantine at a designated facility, followed by seven days of self-monitoring at home, current Vietnamese policies say.
More cases seen in Laos
In Laos, 1,737 cases of COVID-19 infection have now been reported, Phonepaseuth Xaymoungkhoun—Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health’s Communicable Disease Control Department—said in a May 19 press conference.
“Today we tested 1,482 samples and found that 50 of them tested positive for COVID-19,” he said, adding, “Twenty-one new cases have been found in Bokeo province, 16 in the capital Vientiane, six in Savannakhet province, five in Champassak province, and two in Oudomxay province.
A lockdown already in force in Bokeo province, bordering China, has now been extended until May 31, a member of the provincial Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control told RFA’s Lao Service on May 19.
“Yes, the lockdown has been extended from the 18th to the 31st of this month because the number of new cases in the province has not gone down yet,” the Taskforce official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“For example, today’s number of cases is 21, and of course most of those cases were found in the Golden Triangle SEZ [Special Economic Zone]. Chinese medical experts in the SEZ have advised us to extend the lockdown in order to control the spread of the virus,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a restaurant owner in Bokeo’s Houeyxay district said his restaurant has already been shut for months. “And we will keep it closed until further notice. Our family is doing nothing but living on our savings now,” he said.
A hotel owner in Bokeo’s Tonpheung district said that his own business has now been closed for more than a year, adding, “Now we’re working on our farm, growing vegetables.”
Three hundred Thai nationals working in Bokeo’s Golden Triangle SEZ, including nine infected by COVID-19, are free to return home to Thailand as soon as they are allowed to leave by provincial Lao authorities, an official in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province told RFA.
“But so far, nobody has shown any intention to come back. We asked our Lao counterparts about the nine infected Thais, and they said they’re now being treated in the SEZ,” he said.
Nationwide, a total of 553,612 people have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, with 95.394 fully vaccinated, according to official figures.
In Cambodia, three more COVID-19 patients died on May 19, bringing the total number dead in that country to 159, the Cambodian Ministry of Health said, adding that 393 more people have recently tested positive. To date, 23,282 people have been infected in Cambodia, the Ministry said.
Lockdowns of parts of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and a wider shutdown of economic activity in the country of 16 million people, have led to mass joblessness and hunger as people can’t find work to earn money for food.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian Services. Translated by Anna Vu, Samean Yun, and Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.