Catholics attending Mass are offered free face masks at Nam Hoa Church in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan. 2. (UCA News photo)
The Vietnamese government has expanded school closures and set up health facilities to cope with a possible virus influx while Catholics are urged to pray hard.
On Feb. 5, Mai Tien Dung, minister and chairman of the Government Office, told a press conference in Hanoi that if Vietnam cannot prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the country may run the greatest risk of the viral infection as it shares a 1,000-kilometer border with China and the two neighbors have close trade and tourism ties.
“If we don’t take action, we will suffer dire consequences,” Dung warned after the coronavirus outbreak was declared an epidemic in the Southeast Asian country on Feb. 1.
He said the outbreak has badly affected people’s lives as well as hurting the country’s investment, trade and tourism. All flights, buses and trains to and from China have been halted in an effort to contain the fast-spreading pathogen.
So far Vietnam has confirmed 10 cases of the coronavirus — five in Vinh Phuc province, three in Ho Chi Minh City and the rest from the provinces of Khanh Hoa and Thanh Hoa. Among the patients, three have no record of recent travel to China.
The virus, declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, has killed 565 people and infected 28,262, mostly in China. Over 1,000 infected people have recovered.
Vietnam's Health Ministry announced that field hospitals with a capacity of 3,000 beds have been set up to receive and treat all suspected victims of the coronavirus if the epidemic spreads.
Dung said local governments could close schools in one or two weeks to ensure that educational facilities are disinfected. To date, 63 provinces and cities across the country have suspended classes.
Bishop Joseph Dinh Duc Dao of Xuan Loc called on Catholics to obey instructions given by Vietnamese bishops and government agencies to contain the outbreak.
Bishop Dao decided to temporarily halt diocesan gatherings for the Divine Mercy, young people, patients, Marian devotees and pilgrimages planned for this month.
He also asked the faithful to pray fervently for the world to be rescued from the dangerous epidemic by “fasting, showing contrition and mortification, doing penance and performing charitable work within three days, Feb. 9-11.”
The prelate urged them to appeal to God to “help us to avoid greed and selfishness but show love, generosity and sacrifice to work together for the common good.”