Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long spoke with Nhan Dan (People) newspaper about Vietnam’s measures to deal with the threat posed by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Q: What is your assessment of the possibility of MERS-CoV entering Vietnam?

A: MERS-CoV is a dangerous respiratory disease with a high mortality rate. The strain of coronavirus that causes MERS-CoV is similar to the virus causing the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

MERS-CoV was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has spread to over 26 countries in the world with 1,154 cases of infection and 434 reported fatalities.

Some countries in the region have reported cases of infection in people who had recently returned from the Middle East. Notably, the number of cases of infection has increased every day in the Republic of Korea (RoK).

Amidst the complicated developments of MERS-CoV, epidemiologists said that MERS-CoV is able to enter Vietnam from passengers from infected areas. In addition, it is difficult to detect cases of infection as the incubation period lasts from two to 14 days without symptoms. So far, there is no specific treatment or vaccine to prevent MERS-CoV infection.

However, people should not be too anxious as the health sector and relevant agencies are actively implementing preventative measures against this epidemic and are ready to deal with the intrusions of MERS-CoV.

Q: What are the specific measures the Ministry of Health and relevant sectors have implemented to prevent and cope with the possibility of MERS-CoV entering Vietnam?

A: The health sector has always raised awareness for prevention of the disease, with the focus on preventing it from entering Vietnam. If any case of infection is detected, patients will be isolated and receive timely treatment.

When the disease appeared in 2012, the health sector put forth a plan to cope with it. The Health Ministry adopted a plan in 2014 to prevent and control MERS-CoV in three specific situations. The ministry also held an emergency meeting with relevant sectors and international organisations on June 2 to seek further measures against MERS-CoV amid the spread of MERS-CoV in Asia. The first situation in the plan (where no case of infection has been reported) has been enacted and several components of the second situation have been implemented. The Health Ministry has also delivered messages on MERS-CoV to people and advised people not to travel to infected areas at this time.

One of the most important measures is to closely monitor passengers from the Middle East and the RoK from entering Vietnam at international border gates. All passengers coming to Vietnam from the RoK, Bahrain and Middle East countries are required to fill out health declarations for the health units to monitor over 14 days.

Q: How do you assess the measures that Vietnam is taking in preventing MERS-CoV from entering Vietnam?

A: Even though Vietnam has not reported any cases of infection, the health sector has made every effort to prevent the epidemic.

At the meeting on June 2, representatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all appreciated Vietnam's preparatory work as well as the measures implemented by the health sector. However, we will continue to carry out preventative measures to prevent MERS-CoV from entering Vietnam which requires close co-ordination between ministries and sectors and heightened public awareness. The Health Ministry will closely co-operate with international organisations to update information and adjust preventative measures.

Learning from MERS-CoV cases in the RoK, Vietnam is focusing on monitoring passengers at international border gates in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to early detect possible cases of infection. It is also necessary to increase infection control in hospitals to prevent transmission to healthcare workers and other people. Medical units are also asked to establish isolated areas and prepare enough drugs and equipment to receive and treat people infected with MERS-CoV..-VNA