How Vietnam Is Winning the Battle Against COVID-19.
Posted on May 9th, 2020

By Methmalie Dissanayake Courtesy Ceylon Today

A majority of nations began making COVID-19 prevention plans after their first few patients were reported. Vietnam, however, did not wait until patients were discovered. On 16 January, before a single patient was reported in the country, Vietnam’s Health Ministry held an emergency meeting to take drastic measures to prevent the outbreak, following the development of the disease in China. At that time, even the World Health Organisation (WHO) was yet to declare the outbreak a pandemic, and the virus was only known as 2019-nCov. This foresight proved astute; Vietnam reported its first patient on 23 January.

Vietnam, which shares a 1,100km-long border with China, has a population of 95 million — more than South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore combined. Yet the number of patients reported from the country since 23 January has been only 270, with none of the cases proving fatal so far.

Declaring war against COVID-19

“Vietnam took very quick and strong measures from the start. After its first case was reported in late January, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc likened the fight against the virus to fighting an enemy in a war. On 01 February, PM Phuc declared the novel COVID-19 an epidemic in Vietnam, when there were just six positive cases,” Vietnamese Journalist, Lam Le said.

Soon after, the country decided to quarantine all arrivals from COVID-19 affected areas and banned all flights to China. South Korea and Iran were later added to the flight ban list, which saw more countries added to it as the virus spread across the world, until Vietnam eventually banned foreigners from entering the country in late March.

 Currently, all arrivals from overseas are subject to compulsory 14-day quarantine in State-run facilities, she said.
Another strong measure has been Vietnam’s contact tracing. Close contacts of confirmed patients are subject to quarantine in hospitals, State-run facilities, or at home, while the close contacts of these individuals are quarantined at home.

At one point (on 04 April), nearly 70,000 people were quarantined, including over 44,000 in military camps and university dorms. The total number of people in quarantine has gone down to around 32,000 now.

“All new patients and their travel history, including details where they had eaten, or where and when they visited a market or pub, are publicised in the press and on social media, so at-risk people could report themselves for testing. 

All the tests are free for everyone and so is treatment, except for foreigners. Vietnam has far more tested people than confirmed cases; so far, the country has carried out over 200,000 tests and detected just 270 cases, most of whom have recovered. There have been no deaths in Vietnam.”

Furthermore, schools in most places across the country remained shut after the Lunar New Year holiday (12 February), with some starting to reopen only since last week.

On 1 April, Vietnam started a three week-long nationwide social distancing protocol — a semi lockdown. All non-essential businesses were suspended, taxis and public transport stopped running, and gatherings of two or more people were banned. 

These restrictions were lifted last week after a weeklong streak of no new cases. Currently, people can go out, but crowds of 20 or more in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh city are still banned, and wearing a mask when outside remains compulsory.
Over the past few months, when signs of community transmission became apparent, Vietnam moved to quarantine neighbourhoods, put one of its biggest hospitals on lockdown for over two weeks, and even locked down several villages, she stated.


However, amidst all these challenging efforts, the country has seen its share of scandal as well.
According to Lam, the biggest scandal so far might be the incident in which top officials at Hanoi’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) allegedly inflated the purchase price for a COVID-19 test system to three times the actual rate.

The VN Express newspaper in Vietnam reported on 23 April that the Director of the Hanoi CDC and his accomplices had raised the purchase price for a COVID-19 test kit package utilising the real-time polymerase chain reaction (real-time PCR) system by three times, to VND 4.7 billion (US$ 201,166). The CDC Director and six other suspects were arrested on 22 April.

Public support to the Government

Lam noted that the Government’s consistent advice has been to stay home and only go out if there is an absolute necessity, wash hands frequently, wear a face mask when leaving home, avoid crowds, and maintain a two-metre distance between one another in public spaces.

She said that the general public largely supported the Government, as generally every citizen was ready to sacrifice a little bit to fight the outbreak.

Lam’s claim was supported by a survey conducted by Dalia Research that questioned 32,631 people in 45 countries. According to that survey, which was the single largest global public opinion study on COVID-19, Vietnam has the highest percentage of respondents – around 62 per cent – who feel the Government is doing the ‘right amount’ in response to the situation.

The one-party State is a classic example as to how a developing country could prevent a pandemic like COVID-19, effectively mobilising each and every resource at hand. Vietnam’s media, which is controlled by the State, launched massive informative campaigns to educate the public. A song about washing hands properly, posted by the Health Ministry, received widespread global attention. 

The Government also collaborated with tech firms to develop mobile apps and a real time database for people to report their health status on a daily basis and update information on suspected and confirmed cases, as well as regarding the people in close contact with them.

According to Vietnamese Editor of BBC, Giang Nguyen, as reported by the BBC World Service, “With political intentions, a well-organised Government and an obedient society are enough to make the country avoid the worst effects of the coronavirus.”

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