Prolonged icy weather has seen large numbers of people hospitalised and killed hundreds of buffalo and cows through exposure in northern mountain provinces while additional cold spells have been forecast for the area this month.

Deputy director of the National Hydro-meteorological Forecast Centre Le Thanh Hai said on Jan. 11 was the coldest day in the north so far this winter.

Damaging cold weather accompanied by light rain caused temperatures in Hanoi to fall to a chill 7.6 degrees Celsius Jan. 12 morning while it dipped to minus 2 degrees Celsius on Mau Son Mountain in Lang Son province. The temperature is even lower than record one of 2008's cold spell.

The Hanoi-based National Hospital of Paediatrics reported it had seen between 1,300-1,500 children daily, most of them suffering from respiratory infections, bronchitis and diarrhoea caused by viruses.

The hospital's respiratory ward has admitted more than 150 children although it has only 50 beds. A similar situation was replicated at the respiratory ward of Saint Paul Hospital in Hanoi .

Most of the patients came from the provinces of Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, Bac Giang, Vinh Phuc and Yen Bai.

An increasing number of adult patients have also visited hospitals to receive treatment for high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, respiratory disorders, asthma and rheumatism.

The National Geriatric Hospital has admitted more than 150 patients daily.

Doctor Nguyen Van Long said icy weather exacerbated existing chronic diseases, especially with those people suffering from high blood pressure.

The cold weather started on January 3. Two more cold snaps have been forecast to hit the north on January14-15 and 17-18 with the lowest temperatures dropping to between 5-8 degree Celsius

Meteorologists said the cold weather was expected to cause rains in the east of the northern region and north-central coastal provinces and last until at least the next 10 days.

They said this cold spell would be the second longest following the historic cold snap of 2008, which lasted 38 days.

To cope with the cold weather, the Health Ministry has asked hospitals and health departments ensure that patients are kept sufficiently warm when they are admitted to hospital.

The ministry also requested hospitals to prepare enough medicines, beds and first aid facilities to treat emergency cases.

It warned of Co2 gas poisoning and fire-related accidents as many people tended to keep warm by bringing coal braziers and firewood into their houses.

Cold weather also killed more than 400 buffalo and cows in northern provinces , according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Bac Kan province suffered the most severe losses with 200 buffaloes dead. It was followed by Ha Giang, Lao Cai and Yen Bai provinces.

Head of the Livestock Breeding Department Hoang Kim Giao said the actual figures remained unknown as the provinces had not yet completed their reports.

Giao is currently working with the provinces to collect updated numbers of livestock deaths.

In 2008, over 52,000 buffaloes and cows died during prolonged cold spells; 3,000 deaths were reported in Bac Can Province alone.

Giao said he believed that current figures would not exceed those of 2008 since farmers had been instructed to cover breeding facilities as early as October.

The department has also asked farmers to stop livestock grazing once temperatures dip below 12 degrees Celsius. However, Bac Kan Province is believed to have the highest incidence of deaths because not all the farmers have heeded these instructions.

Lang Son local Nguyen Thanh Lan said as the weather worsened, more livestock would die.

With temperatures plunging, dead buffalo meat has also dropped in price. A dead calf is sold for 500,000 VND (23 USD), while a dead adult buffalo costing only 300,000 VND (14 USD).

Despite the low price tags, Lan said she and other traders were not able to sell that much meat because of a glut.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat has asked the People's Committees of localities in the northern and north-central regions to promptly take measures to keep livestock warm and to encourage local farmers to clean and improve breeding facilities as well as plant grass and store food.

They were also instructed to provide financial aid to local, especially poor, farmers to help them protect their livestock and prepare funds to support farmers in case more losses were incurred./.