As the pandemic continues to rage across the globe at an unprecedented rate, millions of lives have been claimed. In just the United States alone, over one hundred thousand deaths have been reported since the virus's arrival in late January, with over three million positive cases confirmed in addition. Even with strict social distancing and quarantine guidelines in place, it seems as if a death from this novel virus is inevitable in any country, especially if that country shares an open border with China, the pandemic's reported place of origin. Yet one of China's neighbors to the south has managed to defy these seemingly insurmountable odds: Vietnam, which has accumulated a striking total of zero reported deaths and only a few hundred confirmed cases.
Vietnam's massive success in containing the pandemic within its borders can be primarily attributed to its proactive and structured governmental plan. Even before cases began being confirmed within Vietnam, the government had put a plan in place to protect public welfare, anticipating thousands of cases and hundreds of possible deaths. Though an immense overreaction, as evidenced by Vietnam's current statistics, this plan proved to be extremely effective in mitigating the potentially egregious effects of the virus.
The Vietnamese government's plan can be divided into distinct phases, each being instituted at different points during the pandemic. The first phase, which occurred when news of a possible pandemic first reached Vietnam from China, happened primarily in the month of January; the second phase, by far the longest and most strenuous one, lasted from February to May; and lastly, the third phase, which Vietnam is currently in right now, has lasted from June until the present day.
The First Phase
During the first month of the pandemic, Vietnam had experienced very few confirmed cases despite its close proximity to China. Nonetheless, this did not stop the Vietnamese government from taking proactive measures to ensure that an outbreak wouldn't occur in the upcoming months. On January 10, even before the country had reported its first confirmed case on January 23, the government had ordered all passengers traveling from Wuhan, China to be screened upon arrival. Those that were suspected to have the illness were immediately quarantined and isolated.
In addition to vigorous screenings, the government ordered all Vietnamese citizens to wear face masks in public settings, an order that had exceeded the World Health Organization's advice at the time. The Vietnamese people were immediately compliant as many remembered the aftermath and devastating consequences of the earlier avian influenza and SARS epidemics of 2003. Having already experienced two catastrophic epidemics before, they didn't want to endure another one again and were willing to take all the necessary measures and precautions to avoid any outbreaks.
To reinforce the effectiveness of the first phase, the Vietnamese government had kept clear communication with its citizens. The government made sure that citizens knew of the potential risk of the virus spreading into Vietnam and constantly kept the people updated with news and other precautionary measures to take.
Finally, on February 1, only a few days after the first reported case in Vietnam, the government had decided to halt all flights coming from China, making it one of the first countries in the world to do so. Additionally, on the same day, the country had shut down its 870-mile-long shared border with China, restricting people from moving between the two countries.
The Second Phase
The next phase of the Vietnamese government's plan comprised of three main goals: increasing testing capacity and availability for the public, strengthening and reinforcing quarantine guidelines and efforts, and diffusing more information about public health awareness to citizens. Though the virus still remained fairly contained within Vietnam during this phase, the government still felt a need to enact more preventative measures to avoid exacerbating the spread of the illness.
On January 23, only two testing sites were available to the public. During the second phase, the government created dozens of more sites, leaving a grand total of 63 on May 1. With access to many more testing sites, more than 260,000 citizens were able to get a test conducted.
Those who tested positive were immediately ordered to quarantine themselves; moreover, any close contacts/relatives of the positive patient were also ordered to be quarantined. However, instead of self-quarantining, as many countries have suggested, Vietnam sent quarantined patients into military-run camps, field hospitals, and university residences. With all the isolated people in one central area, officials were able to more tightly control them and ensure that they were abiding by the necessary quarantine guidelines. Additionally, instead of having to keep themselves accountable, quarantine patients had authorities to keep them in check, creating a more effective and sustainable quarantine process.
Lastly, on February 23, the Vietnamese Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health released a song entitled "Ghen Cô Vy," or "Jealous Coronavirus," a parody of the widely famous Vietnamese pop song, "Ghen." This song, which was played everywhere from hallways to elevators, was created to encourage handwashing and basic general hygiene. While rather unorthodox, "Ghen Cô Vy" proved to be an incredible success as the song spread rapidly around Vietnam and even gained international popularity on TikTok. Ultimately, it was a fun and humorous way to promote public health awareness while still keeping people sensitive to the importance of the issue.
The Third Phase
Despite the proactive actions employed in the first and second phases, however, Vietnam saw an inevitable spike in the number of new cases. In May, the country saw an astounding 300 cases, an enormous surge from the 16 confirmed cases observed during the first two months. With cases continually rising, the Vietnamese government officially declared that the country was in an epidemic and declared a nationwide lockdown. Moreover, around 200,000 people were forced to be quarantined.
This immediate and stringent response by the Vietnamese government proved to be invaluable to the Vietnamese people. Of its almost 300 cases, 90% have made a full recovery. Though there are some questions concerning the validity of these statistics considering the one-party state's tight control on its media and its public relations with China, Nguyen Phuong Linh, an analyst who has studied the Vietnamese government's response to the pandemic, notes that the level of transparency that Vietnamese citizens have seen from the government has been "pretty much unprecedented."
With its rapid success in containing the virus, Vietnam was among one of the first countries in the world to ease social distancing measures and reopen its economy. Near the end of June, the government allowed the first chartered flight from Japan, effectively reversing the travel ban that was instituted in March. Additionally, from April to June, Vietnam's economy saw an unexpected period of growth, with its GDP increasing by a total of 0.36%.
To the Vietnamese people, however, this is not an indication that they can return to their normal lives. Instead, it's an indication that they must lead new lives with new norms and new lessons to learn from.
On March 18, 2020, 43-year-old British pilot Stephen Cameron was diagnosed with COVID-19 while in Vietnam. Upon being admitted to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, his condition immediately deteriorated and worsened, and he was eventually deemed the most critically ill patient in the nation. When news broke out that his lungs were failing, more than 50 Vietnamese citizens volunteered to donate their lungs to him, purely out of the kindness of their own hearts. The country engaged in an all-out effort to save him, spending more than $200,000 on him alone. Against all odds, and thanks to the compassion of the Vietnamese people, Stephen Cameron made a full recovery.
As a Vietnamese-American who has visited Vietnam on multiple occasions, I can strongly testify to the unconditional selflessness and altruism of the Vietnamese people exemplified through the aforementioned story. As I walk down the motorcycle-ridden streets and enter the homely, family-run restaurants, there's a palpable and gripping sense of camaraderie and love that beams from all the people. So while we can accredit Vietnam's major success in containing the virus to the swift and rigorous actions enacted by the government, it's also a powerful testament to the characteristic generosity that the Vietnamese people have always had to offer.