This is the first in a short series of posts regarding the response to the Covid-19 pandemic from South-East Asia countries. Here we look at Vietnam, seen by many as one of the success stories of a global crisis.
This article was updated on 3rd August.
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Vietnam could have rightly been regarded as a very high-risk country. A long, shared border with China coupled with high levels of border crossings between the two countries. The population of more than 97 million people is often concentrated in densely populated cities making it more susceptible to virus outbreaks. Vietnam however has only recorded 412 Covid-19 cases and has had no fatalities.
Things have changed since we first wrote this piece. Vietnam has now recorded its first deaths, now totaling 35, with 1,095 confirmed cases and 1,010 recorded as recovered (2nd October) – read more here. The latest statistics are available on our COVID-19 and South East Asia page.
Had Vietnam learned its lessons from previous outbreaks?
The country had been hit by SARS in 2003, their response at the time was also seen to be good and were the first country declared SARS-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO). On the back of the SARS outbreak, Vietnam increased its investment in public health and started the development of a National Public Health Emergency Operations Centre and a public health surveillance and reporting system. The country had also experienced outbreaks of Avian Influenza between 2003 and 2010 as well as Measles and Dengue Fever.
This experience led to Vietnam’s government initiating their “drastic action” plan in early January, even before they had any cases of Covid-19 and when numbers in China were still very low. A Health Risk Assessment was completed and by January 21st, still before any cases in the country, the Ministry of Health had issued guidance on outbreak prevention and detection.
The first reported cases of Covid-19 in Vietnam were on January 23rd all of which had connections to Wuhan in China. By the end of January Vietnam had issued its National Response Plan and established a National Steering Committee on Epidemic Prevention. They were proactively planning and implementing strategies far earlier than other countries and putting into place the building blocks to prevent widespread infection.
The Vietnamese Response
Vietnam quickly implemented a series of measures to contain the outbreak and reduced infections within the country.
Even before Vietnam had their first case they had implemented additional screening for visitors from Wuhan and just 7 days after their first case, all Chinese Visas were cancelled, with flights to and from China cancelled on 1st February, all trains between the two countries being cancelled from 5th February.
Flights from the majority of Europe, including the UK, were suspended on 15th March, with no visas issued shortly after for travel from elsewhere. By 22nd March Vietnam had effectively closed its borders with all international flights suspended and land crossings closed.
They avoided the strict complete lockdown, lasting weeks, if not months, seen in many countries, instead they concentrated on local lockdowns whenever cases emerged. Non-essential services were shut down nationwide from 1st April with restrictions on movement but this lasted just 15 days for most of the country, extended to 21 days in certain areas.
Local lockdowns were however key. In Son Loi more than 10,000 people entered a full lockdown on February 13th lasting until 4th March, after 6 local cases. The largest local lockdown took place from March 17th to April 14th in Van Lam 3 Village which affected 145,000 in the local area. Some localised lockdowns were much smaller. Truc Bac Street in Hanoi was in lockdown from March 6th to 20th and affected just 190 people.
Each lockdown meant that all travel into and out of the area was prohibited until there had been two full weeks clear of new cases. This helped the country to contain their issues and prevent the widespread infection of the population in a wider area.
They implemented a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving from abroad and for anyone within Vietnam who had contact with a confirmed case. Unlike other countries the quarantine often took place in government centres where they provided, very basic, accommodation and food. More than 200,000 were housed in these centres by May this year with a further 250,000 quarantined in local lockdowns.
Schools were closed at the end of January for the Vietnamese New Year and remained closed until the middle of May. Wearing of face masks was made compulsory, even before WHO started to recommend their use, and the practice was strictly enforced. The provision and use of hand sanitisers was also widely implemented.
Testing, used by many countries as part of their defence strategy, has mainly been concentrated on suspected and high-risk cases. Vietnam concentrated on an intensive contact tracing scheme. Contact tracing included groups living nearby confirmed cases, which resulted in some local lockdowns, and individual tracing on a much wider scale than seen elsewhere. Quarantine quickly followed to reduce further spread.
Public support was key to the Vietnamese Covid response. The government had a well-oiled communications system, some would call it propaganda, that went into over-drive. They utilised television and radio, social media, government websites, local organisations, widespread use of text messaging sent to all phones as well as a large-scale print campaign in all public places. In addition a voice message was played prior to every voice phone call being made. A popular song was rewritten and released that reinforced the governments messages and proved especially successful. A contact tracing app was launched very early in their response. The promotional campaign was pitched in such a way that resulted in not just compliance but support for government actions.
The Current Situation
There have been no local cases of Covid-19 infection for around 3 months, with all cases in that time being the result of people arriving from abroad and being placed in quarantine. These cases have been linked to the repatriation of Vietnamese citizens who were trapped abroad during the pandemic.
Internal travel has restarted and the government has launched a campaign to encourage the Vietnamese to travel within the country to help stimulate the economy especially the hard hit tourist industry.
Borders are still widely closed and there is no indication when restrictions may start to be lifted. It is likely that it will not be anytime soon and will be focused on countries who low levels of infection as they continue to follow their safety first approach.
Vietnam has shown that their extreme response to the situation in early January was the correct decision and has resulted in their very low levels of infection.
Vietnam had not recorded a Covid-19 case for almost 100 days when out of nowhere cases were recorded in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Hoi An.
The first cases were report in Da Nang followed soon after by the first death, a 70 year old man from Hoi An with underlying helth conditions.
More than 80,000 people were evacuated out of Da Nang, always a popular destination for Vietnamese. Cases elsewhere in the country were linked to the outbreak in Da Nang. The city has plans to test the entire population of 1.1 million people for the virus.
The source of this new outbreak is currently unknown and the Bangkok Post reported that Vietnamese authorities had stated that the strain of virus was more contagious than seen in the earlier outbreak in the country.
The British Pilot
The whole country seemed to follow the case of a British pilot, Patient 91 as he was known, who was the worst affected of all the cases in Vietnam. There was widespread celebration when Stephen Cameron was taken of a ventilator after 68 days in an intensive care unit in Ho Chi Minh City. He was well enough to return to the UK on 12th July.
In our next article we will look at the response in Thailand.
Talk to us
Do you have any experience of how Vietnam or other South-East Asian countries reacted to Covid-19 or where you in country at the time of the outbreak. Let us know your thoughts and experiences.
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