|Students in Hanoi wait to get their temperatures checked on May 4, 2020, as schools re-opened after a three-month closure to fight the COVID-19 epidemic. Photo (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP)
The article states that a notable exception to all of the grim statistics regarding the pandemic globally in recent weeks has been Vietnam. At the time of publishing, the country only has 55 active COVID-19 cases with zero deaths. Indeed, for 21-day consecutive days between April 16 and May 7, there were no new cases reported in the nation.
Moreover, it is worth taking into account that the country is one of the poorest in Southeast Asia, with a GDP per capita that barely reaches US$2,500, a figure 13 times less than Italy and 25 times less than that of the United States. In addition, it also shares a 1,444km-long border with China and is heavily reliant on Chinese imports and exports. Finally, the nation’s population is roughly 100 million, making it one of the most densely populated places worldwide.
The article puts forward the case that wealth has not been a significant factor in the ability of a country to successfully combat the virus. Given the nation’s precarious financial health, the Government has been keen to avoid jeopardising local health services by making sure that the disease never became too widespread to curb. As opposed to relying on recommendations made by the World Health Organization with its stage one to four model, the Vietnamese Government took swift action by taking the highly prudent approach of assuming the possibility of a full-blown pandemic.
The article details how Vietnam decided to seal its northern border when the number of COVID-19 cases in China sharply increased during the last week of January.
Indeed, January 28 saw major tourist destinations such as Da Nang and Nha Trang stop receiving Chinese tourists. In contrast, a similar ban was issued in the US on February 4, although plenty of exceptions and range of discretions were granted to airlines out of a fear of immediate and significant economic drawbacks.
By February 26, the country had limited the number of COVID-19 cases to 16, all of whom went on to make a successful recovery. Despite initial success, early March saw a mixture of tourists and Vietnamese nationals returning to the country bringing the virus with them, therefore initiating a second wave of infections.
This led to authorities imposing a 14-day quarantine on all foreign arrivals as of March 21, as well as on all establishments they visited. Local administrations meticulously traced every single person who may have possibly been affected, swiftly moving to quarantine entire streets as well as villages out of the fear of future outbreaks of the epidemic.
The article also lavished praise on the prudent Vietnamese approach to containing the epidemic following the decision to impose a quarantine at the end of March.
Restaurants, cafes, shops, and businesses catering to the public were quickly shut down and street vendors were told to remain at home. Although the initial decision was seen as heavy-handed, especially in cities and regions where there were no active cases, the move was ultimately an integral part of the successful Vietnamese strategy to take on the COVID-19.
Elsewhere, Vietnamese scientists were able to develop their own test for the COVID-19 as early as January, later improving it to be able to provide results within 80 minutes with a 90% accuracy rate. In March, there tests were being produced on a massive scale and were marketed abroad at a reasonable price.
Finally, the article notes the nation’s practical activities to support those hardest hit by the pandemic. Some of the measures saw local authorities provide free face masks and rice to people via “rice ATMs” located in major cities. Moreover, the government began to offer monthly benefits to those with no unemployment insurance.
“While the future remains uncertain, the Vietnamese example reminds us that having extensive financial resources is neither necessary nor sufficient to successfully fight an epidemic”, the article concluded.