A Vietnamese court has sentenced a man to five years in prison after he was accused of violating quarantine rules and spreading COVID-19, showing the extent to which the one-party state will go to enforce health protocols.
After a single-day trial, the court in southern Cà Mau province on Monday convicted defendant Le Van Tri of “spreading dangerous infectious diseases to people” after he was arrested for evading a mandatory 21-day isolation order after traveling from Ho Chi Minh City, according to a report in state-run media.
Tri’s actions led to one person contracting the virus and dying from it, the report alleged.
With some of the strictest pandemic measures in the world, Vietnam had largely controlled the virus until a surge in recent months pushed the death toll to over 13,700.
Its vaccination rates remain low, with only about 3.3 percent of the total population having received two doses. That has left it to rely largely on maintaining tough movement restrictions, and to pass down harsh punishments for anyone who breaks them. Vietnam earlier sentenced two other people to jail for breaking orders to self-isolate, including a flight attendant who had travelled from Japan, Reuters reported.
In July, Tri and his brother-in-law came home to Cà Mau after losing their jobs in Ho Chi Minh City amid the worsening outbreak, according to the media report. Tri then appeared before local government offices to seek unemployment benefits and “make a health declaration.” The next day, authorities ordered Tri to go into medical isolation for 21 days.
“Tri did not comply with the regulations as committed, leading to the spread of COVID-19 to many people,” the report said. He tested positive for COVID-19 on July 7.
“From Tri’s infection chain, one person died,” the report said, adding that “Tri admitted to the whole crime.” Tri had also “made false declarations” about his travel schedule, according to the report, which did not include comments from Tri or his lawyer.
Vietnam on Tuesday reported 14,208 new infections, bringing the overall count to 550,996 as the country battles an unprecedented surge in cases. The delta variant of the coronavirus is causing alarming surges in infections across Southeast Asia, and it caught Vietnam off-guard with its lagging vaccination program.
Of Vietnam’s estimated 98 million people, only 3.44 million have so far been fully vaccinated, according to state media. The latest lockdown has also seen soldiers dispatched to supermarkets to shop for people.
The new wave of infections was a turnaround from how the country performed in the early days of the pandemic, when it was hailed for its largely successful response to the health crisis, although critics pointed out that it was made possible by an authoritarian governing structure.
Vietnam closed its northern border with China in January, even before local transmission of the virus was detected. It closed all its borders as its first few local cases were recorded, and launched an aggressive testing, contact-tracing and isolation program.
Much information about confirmed COVID-19 cases were made available to the public, including on social media, to help contact-tracing—a move that drew some concern and criticism from the public, according to the Asia Foundation.
“In this way, controversial or not, the public has been provided with a significant amount of accurate information that has enabled them to make informed decisions about their health and their movements. In some cases, however, it has also led to the demonization of particular individuals, easily identified by their description,” the group said in a report on its website.