By Phuong Nguyen
HANOI -Vietnam's business hub Ho Chi Minh City will begin social distancing measures for 15 days starting from May 31 in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the government said on Sunday.
The city has seen a rise in cases related to a religious mission that has recorded at least 125 positive tests, accounting for most of the city's infections, according to a government statement.
After successfully containing the virus for most of last year, infections in Vietnam have risen since late April, accounting for more than half of the total 7,107 registered cases among its population of 98 million. It still has one of the world's lowest cases, with a total of 47 deaths so far and authorities seem determined to keep it that way.
"All events that gather more than 10 people in public are banned city-wide, but the city is considering to lower the number of people to just five," the government said.
Go Vap district, where the Revival Ekklesia Mission is located, will be under full restrictions, and people there will not be allowed to go out unnecessarily, the statement said.
State-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported Ho Chi Minh City authorities would conduct COVID-19 tests city-wide with testing capacity at 100,000 samples per day.
"The city will prioritize testing high risk people first including workers in industrial parks and members of the religious mission," VNA reported.
"Ho Chi Minh City has done 50,000 tests so far. To date there are at least 62,000 people who came into contact with infected ones," it added.
Ho Chi Minh City on Friday shut shops, restaurants and other services, and suspended religious activities until further notice, the city said in a statement. People 60 or older were encouraged to stay home, it also said.
The re-emergence of the virus with complicated clusters has prompted calls for the Vietnamese government and the city's authorities to accelerate vaccinations.
In a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday, State President Nguyen Xuan Phuc suggested both countries enhance cooperation in COVID-19 vaccine research, production and technology transfer, the government said in a statement.
Around 64,000 frontline workers among Ho Chi Minh City's 13 million residents have been given at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, official data showed.
Vietnam has received around 2.9 million doses from purchases and via the international COVAX sharing scheme and is seeking to secure millions more from foreign vaccine makers for its inoculation campaign.
The country's locally-produced COVID-19 shot enters Phase III human trials involving 13,000 volunteers in early June.