Vietnam reports first coronavirus death after months of successful curbs

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam celebrated its first death by COVID-19 on Friday after receiving praise for one of the most successful national responses to the pandemic worldwide.

A man wears a protective mask as he drives past a banner promoting Coronavirus Disease Prevention (COVID-19) in Hanoi, Vietnam, on July 31, 2020. REUTERS / Kham

The country, with a population of 96 million, had passed 100 days without infection before an unexpected cluster of new cases surfaced in the popular central spa town of Danang a week ago.

The Ministry of Health reported 45 new infections in the city on Friday, marking the largest one-day jump in the Southeast Asian country.

On Thursday, Hanoi started mass corona virus testing, closed bars and nightclubs, banned large gatherings, and asked tens of thousands of domestic travelers to report to the authorities.

The Hanoi Center for Disease Control announced that 21,732 people had been tested in the capital by Friday afternoon. Around 21,000 were tested negative, it said in a statement, without going into more detail.

Patient 428, a 70-year-old man who appears to have contracted the disease in Danang, died on Friday, the official Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said.

The 45 youngest patients, aged between 27 and 87, were connected to three hospitals and two clinics in Danang, which sent a task force of health experts and more than 1,000 health workers to the city overnight, according to the Ministry of Health.

The task force consists of 65 health professionals who previously helped fight coronavirus in other epicentres in Vietnam, the ministry said.

Authorities in Danang are building a 1,000-bed field hospital to relieve the city's hospitals, four of which are locked there after a series of cases.

The newly confirmed infections in Danang have increased the total number of cases in Vietnam to 509.

Some experts say Vietnam may pay for complacency after its initial success in fighting the virus, as normal service resumes quickly, face masks are used less, and domestic travel increases.

Danang had been flooded with visitors who used promotions to revive a tourism sector damaged by border closures and international flight bans.

The current wave is attributed to Danang, but the source is unclear.

In addition to what public health experts called a "textbook" pandemic response, Communist-ruled Vietnam had received worldwide praise for its openness and transparency.

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However, articles about the death of Patient 428 that were published on several state media websites on Friday afternoon were initially deleted or moved to the bottom of the front page.

Shortly afterwards, some outlets published new articles that said the man had died of a heart attack and underlying diseases, as well as COVID-19.

The health ministry has since confirmed death.

Reporting by Phuong Nguyen and Khanh Vu; Writing by James Pearson; Edited by Ed Davies, Shri Navaratnam and Nick Macfie

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