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The Week in Focus: A Covid Update, Saltwater Intrusion and Vietnam's Happiness Ranking

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Each week, we digest the most important stories from the capital, the rest of Vietnam and beyond, and summarize them in short paragraphs so you can easily keep up with current affairs.

Covid-19 Cases Continue to Grow

As the time of writing, Vietnam's coronavirus case total is up to 153, 17 of whom have recovered. Nguyen Duc Chung, the chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee, has warned that undetected cases could be present in the city. Chung has also asked city residents to stay home as much as possible over the next few weeks, and wear a mask if residents must go out. Karaoke parlors, bars, night clubs, cinemas and large restaurants are mostly closed until April 5.

Bach Mai Hospital Tests

Three confirmed Covid-19 cases have been linked to Bach Mai Hospital, including two nurses who tested positive last week. One patient also tested positive after being released from the facility and returning to her home in Lai Chau province. In response, the Ministry of Health has ordered Bach Mai to test nearly 4,000 employees and 1,000 patients for the virus. Vietnam has tested 30,548 since the outbreak began.

Citizens, Especially Those Over 60, Should Stay Home, Health Ministry Warns

In light of the escalation of recently confirmed and suspected cases, the Ministry of Health has put out a number of warnings regarding individual preventive measures against the pandemic. Citizens should avoid going out when not necessary, and people over 60 years old, who are more vulnerable to the virus, should stay at home completely, according to the ministry.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, meanwhile, has banned gatherings of more than 20 people nationwide, while non-essential business - those not providing food, medicine or fuel - have been ordered closed.

Mekong Delta Slammed by Worst Drought, Saltwater Intrusion in Decades

While the Covid-19 pandemic has understandably dominated the news recently, a disaster is unfolding in the Mekong Delta. Conditions appear to be even worse than the 2016 drought, previously considered the worst in the delta's history. That year, 600,000 people lost access to fresh water, while 160,000 hectares of paddy were destroyed and 800,000 tons of rice were lost. Financial damage from that drought reached US$237 million.

This year, numerous canals have run completely dry for the first time, while people rush to fill tanks with water from the precious few remaining sources. In Ben Tre and Tien Giang, trucks have had to supply fresh water to people. This water costs VND100,000–300,000 per cubic meter, while a company in Binh Duong Province sent a barge carrying 1,200 cubic meters of water to Ben Tre.

Nguyen Kim Trang, a farmer in the delta, told VnExpress the situation has grown so severe that "people [there] will all starve to death." With little fresh water flowing through rivers in canals due to minimal rainfall and upstream dams, saltwater from the sea is pushing ever-farther into the region.

"The rice crop has died due to the salinity," Trang added. "Yet leaving all this behind to find jobs in the city is not a choice as everyone is scared of the ongoing epidemic and no one dares to go."

Vietnam Moves up 11 Places in UN World Happiness Report

The perceived happiness of Vietnamese citizens has, however, moved up 11 places in the United Nations (UN) World Happiness Report. In the UN's eighth edition of the report, Vietnam ranked No. 83 out of 156 countries. Finland ranked first for the third year in a row, and Afghanistan, South Sudan and Zimbabwe ranked the lowest. This year's report was published on March 20, the International Day of Happiness.

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