An egg vendor walks with her bicycle in the old district of Hanoi on Feb. 18. (Photo: AFP)
Vietnam is trying to secure hundreds of millions of Covid-19 doses as the highest priority as the country fights its biggest wave of community infections since the pandemic began.
On Feb. 19, Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said Vietnam needs 150 million Covid-19 vaccines for 70 percent of its population this year.
He said the country will receive 60 million vaccines, including 30 million under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) initiative led by the World Health Organization. Most of the Covax vaccines would be used in the second half of this year.
Long said Vietnam will also buy another 30 million vaccines from AstraZeneca. The first batch of 204,000 doses will be imported on Feb. 28, while a homemade vaccine, Nano Covax, is in the second phase of human trials, with another expected to start at the end of February.
He said the ministry plans to negotiate with Pfizer, Moderna and Russian suppliers about more Covid-19 vaccines.
“We are trying to ensure ready access to vaccination for all people so that we can return to normal life and foster economic development,” Long said at a Covid-19 task force meeting.
He asked local officials to make coronavirus prevention efforts their top priorities in the first quarter. Their current Covid-19 battle is not likely to end in the first six months of this year and could continue throughout 2021.
He ordered them to prepare detailed plans for social distancing, strict quarantine, mass testing, treatment and facilities.
Dang Quang Tan, head of the Health Prevention Administration, said Vietnam has confirmed four coronavirus variants. One of them, the more contagious UK strain detected in the northern province of Hai Duong in January, is the biggest pandemic challenge yet. The province has recorded 590 cases since Jan. 27.
The new outbreak had spread to 13 provinces and cities including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with a total of 770 community-transferred infections.
Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi, apostolic administrator of Hai Phong which covers Hai Duong with over 40 parishes, called on local Catholics to attend online Masses and avoid gatherings to contain the pandemic.
Parishes in Ho Chi Minh City have suspended services with high attendances, while many places have been quarantined since Feb. 9. Local health authorities have received health declarations and testing samples from 150,000 people who returned from coronavirus-hit places since Feb. 16. Among them, 200 cases are being kept at quarantine facilities and homes.
Some 12 cities and provinces plan to close schools until the end of this month after the seven-day Tet holiday.
Vietnam has reported 2,362 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 35 deaths.