Throughout the pandemic, each country has implemented its own response to the virus — some better than others.
Countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Taiwan have been praised for the way their leaders acted quickly.
Before recording a single coronavirus case, New Zealand imposed travel restrictions on February 3, 2020 for travelers coming from mainland China.
Australia had stricter rules than most other countries — only allowing residents to travel within 3 miles of their homes.
Not too far away lies Vietnam — which has recorded fewer 2,500 cases of the novel coronavirus and 35 deaths — with a population of 97 million people, and shared borders with China, Cambodia, and Laos.
Thinktank The Lowy Institute published an index on January 28 ranking 98 countries and their success in handling the coronavirus pandemic. Vietnam ranked No. 2 behind New Zealand. The US ranked 94.
But it hasn’t been praised the way other countries have for its success in combating COVID-19.
Vietnam’s early proactivity and focus on contact tracing helped
As early as January 2020, Vietnam conducted its first risk assessment, immediately after a cluster of cases of “severe pneumonia” was discovered in Wuhan, China.
Guy Thwaites, an infectious disease doctor who works in one of the main hospitals designated by the Vietnamese government to treat COVID-19 patients, told Insider the government responded “very quickly and robustly.”
“Schools were shut down and there was a limit on international flights coming in,” Thwaites said. “The government did all the simple things quickly.”
Kamal Malhotra, a United Nations resident coordinator in Vietnam, said the country’s success in handling the virus came down to three things: contact tracing, strategic testing, and clear messaging.
Instead of testing everyone, they tested those identified in contact tracing. The borders were shut down and everyone who came into the country was quarantined in government facilities — for free.
Insider’s Kate Taylor was in Vietnam last February when there were fewer than 20 cases in the country. Taylor said she saw an emphasis on safety measures like mask-wearing, knowing symptoms of the virus, and temperature checks.
The country never went into nationwide lockdown while trying to contain the virus
In an article for the United Nations, Malhotra wrote that the country announced a three-week village-wide quarantine last February. Vietnam closed its border and suspended flights from mainland China, the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world shortly thereafter.
When cases pop up, areas with the infections are placed on a local shutdown where no one can come in or out, Malhotra said.
Instead of locking the entire country down, the prime minister implemented social distancing measures throughout the country for two weeks in April.
By early May, people across Vietnam were largely able to return to their regular lives.
“The government adopted a zero-tolerance approach to get rid of the virus,” Thwaites said. “Basic measures were implemented, but it wasn’t easy. When people trust the government, people do what the government says.”
Vietnam’s approach to combating the virus deserves more recognition
Vietnam had the potential to be a hotspot because of its location and population. But by using a low-cost model and implementing basic safety measures (like washing your hands and wearing a mask), it was able to contain the virus within a few months of the pandemic.
No other country with the same size or population has contained the virus the way Vietnam has. With a population of 102 million, Egypt has recorded more than 176,000 coronavirus cases, according to John Hopkins. The Democratic Republic of the Congo — landlocked in the middle of the African continent — has recorded more than 24,000 cases with a population of 89 million.
Despite sharing a border with the country where the outbreak started, Vietnam’s success story is one worth telling.
According to Malhotra, Vietnam had a better response to fighting the virus than New Zealand.
“It’s absurd to compare countries to New Zealand,” he said. “We have much bigger challenges.”
Malhotra believes there’s a bias against Vietnam’s success because of its system of government. Vietnam is a socialist country under the leadership of the Vietnam Communist Party.
“There’s a lot of skepticism that the government wasn’t sharing data but that is not true,” Malhotra said. “The data is recorded in real-time and there is no coercion in measures taken here.”
The people of Vietnam are learning to live in their new normal, but are still encouraged to social distance and wear masks.
Source: Business Insider