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Vietnam raises swine flu alert level
Health screening equipment at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City Tuesday.
Vietnam raised its swine flu alert to level 4 Tuesday, warning that the threat of “community level outbreaks” could rise at anytime.

The move came after the World Health Organization upgraded its international warning to the same level and issued the same warning Tuesday.

The country may close certain public places and limit travel to and from infected zones, said Nguyen Huy Nga, head of the Health Ministry’s Department for Preventive Health.

Swine flu has killed at least 152 people in Mexico and international news agencies report that 50 cases are now under investigation in the US.

Nga said at least 200 Vietnamese had returned from the US over the past several days while about 10 had just flown in from Mexico, according VietNamNet online newspaper reports. The 10 from Mexico are now being monitored by local health agencies.

The reports said most of those who had returned from the US arrived before the outbreak and had not undergone testing.

At a meeting in Hanoi Tuesday held by the national steering board to tackle the human flu pandemic, Health Minister Nguyen Quoc Trieu said the Examination and Treatment Management Department had been instructed to implement all WHO recommendations and ensure that all hospitals were in compliance.

“All medical equipment should be checked and medicine and decontaminants must be made available,” he said.

Nga urged residents not to travel to the US or Mexico and asked those retuning from these places to monitor their health closely.

Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, said scientists at the institute were able to identify the new strain of H1N1 swine flu virus.

Vietnam has the advantage of 15 influenza monitoring stations that were set up two years ago with the support of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC).


Officials from the Health Ministry and health authorities in Ho Chi Minh City inspected the screening of arriving travelers at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport Tuesday.

Tran Thanh Duong, deputy head of the Department for Preventive Health and Environment, instructed the screening teams to quarantine those with suspicious symptoms and take them to hospitals for examination.

He recommended that health authorities work to inform the media of all preventive measures in an effort to raise public awareness.

Residents should not be overanxious and stop eating pork, he said, because the virus dies when cooked at temperatures more than or equal to 70 degrees Celsius.

The Ho Chi Minh City International Health Quarantine Center reported Tuesday it had checked an average of 7,000 travelers arriving in the city per day since news of the outbreaks broke earlier this week. It has reported no out of the ordinary symptoms yet.

The Animal Health Department Tuesday instructed animal health agencies to strictly inspect imported animals and meat and report any suspicious cases while also implementing quarantine and decontaminant measures.

The department said no pigs in Vietnam had been infected with the H1N1 swine influenza virus so far.

Bloomberg reported that Vietnam’s government said it has no plan to ban imports of pork from North America.

“There isn’t any scientific evidence that the swine flu virus has come from pork, so there’s no justifiable reason for a ban,” Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Cao Duc Phat was quoted as saying, citing reports from the World Organization for Animal Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Local measures

Hanoi will earmark VND6 billion (US$337,700) for precautionary measures against swine flu, the city Health Department director Le Anh Tuan said Tuesday.

Hanoi Pharmaceutical and Medical Equipment Joint Stock Company has been assigned to prepare a stock of Tamiflu.

More officials from the city Health Department and International Health Quarantine Center have been positioned at the Noi Bai International Airport in the capital to measure the temperatures of passengers, especially those coming from the US and Mexico.

As more people travel over the Liberation Day weekend, the airport has set up an isolated room with necessary medical equipment to treat any passenger found with the swine flu virus right away, Tuan said.

The Hanoi Preventive Health Center will train city health officials about how to deal with swine flu outbreaks while Dong Da Hospital will provide treatment to any patients suspected of having swine flu.

Tuan advised people to avoid close contact with people that have coughs or fevers. He said everyone should wash their hands before meals.

As of Tuesday evening, the International Health Quarantine Center had sent officials and tools to measure passengers’ temperatures at Da Nang International Airport and Tien Sa Port, the third largest seaport in Vietnam after those in Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Phong.

Animal health officials of the Health Ministry in Da Nang have cooperated with Da Nang Customs to test shipments of animal products before they are imported to the country.

Authorities in Can Tho, the de facto capital city of the Mekong Delta, have focused on checking import shipments at Can Tho Harbor.

Flu patients in the area have been isolated for special observation and testing.

Swine flu spreads, containment seen as 'unfeasible'

World health officials admitted they were powerless to halt the spread of swine flu and ratcheted up their pandemic alert level as the number of affected countries rose sharply on Tuesday.

As Mexico, epicenter of the outbreak, said 152 people were now believed to have died from the virus, the number of known cases in the US more than doubled while six other countries said they had confirmed their first casualties.

In Asia, where memories of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 remain fresh, governments tried to contain the spread of the virus, screening travelers from affected areas and advising against non-essential travel to Mexico.

Their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world's premier flight hubs, also placed their airports under strict surveillance to spot anyone arriving who might have swine flu.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) said border screenings "don't work," while the EU's health commissioner said there was no need for travel restrictions.

"Border controls do not work. Screening doesn't work," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in Geneva. "If a person has been exposed or infected... the person might not be symptomatic at the airport. We learn as we go on. SARS was a huge learning experience for all of us."

The Mexican government meanwhile said the probable national death toll from the virus had risen to 152, while the number of cases under observation reached 1,614.

Faster and more effective laboratory tests for the flu were to begin on Tuesday, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said.

"We're in the decisive moment of the crisis. The number (of deaths) will continue rising," Cordova said.

Mexico City, home to around 20 million people, remained eerily quiet with the capital's zoos, museums, churches, courts and many restaurants closed.

British tour operators, including Thomas Cook, halted holidays to Mexico after two people who returned to Scotland from a honeymoon in the resort town of Cancun fell ill with the swine flu virus.

Spain on Tuesday also reported a second confirmed case of swine flu and said 32 other people are suspected of having contracted the disease after visiting Mexico while suspected cases were being probed in Germany and Austria.

A total of 44 people are thought to have been infected in the US while Canada has six cases.

And in a further illustration of its global reach, Israel and New Zealand both confirmed their first swine flu casualties.

In Asia, Thai medical authorities placed a woman in quarantine in hospital while South Korea investigated a "probable" victim. Australia meanwhile probed 70 possible cases.

WHO officials in China said they were investigating several people with suspicious symptoms, but played down the chances that any were likely infected.

Source: AFP

Reported by Thanh Nien staff (With additional reporting from VNA)

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