The fear that influenza A (H1N1) outbreaks at two high schools in Ho Chi Minh City would spread further throughout the country has come true.
At least 12 provinces so far have reported flu cases as infected students from Nguyen Khuyen and Ngo Thoi Nhiem private high schools returned home for their summer vacation.
In addition, the nearby cities of Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc, Tay Ninh, Long An and Ba Ria-Vung Tau have reported infections. The students also brought the virus further to the Mekong Delta in Ca Mau and Dong Thap provinces, as well as to north-central Ha Tinh Province.
After several initial cases led to the closure of the schools last week, the HCMC Health Department should have followed through with its plan to keep the students quarantined in the city instead of letting them go home. Then the flu might not have spread to as many localities.
The city Health Department later explained that quarantining all of the schools' students together would have been unwise, as healthy students too, would have been easily infected.
But at the very least, health agencies should have modified their quarantine plan or the students should have been sent home together on special buses under the watchful eye of authorities.
Instead, thousands of students traveled home separately after potentially coming into contact with the virus at their schools. The students traveled on a variety of public modes of transport, significantly increasing the chance they would spread the virus to others.
The Health Department said that agencies in the students' hometowns were capable of monitoring their health, but reportedly, many students did not receive any monitoring.
From the outset, local health authorities assured the public there were measures in place to deal with H1N1. But when it came time for decisive action to prevent a widespread flu outbreak, health agencies stopped short. What good is a plan if it is not seen through to the end?