Vietnam has only reported 240 infections and no fatalities since the outbreak began in January
As countries around the world grapple with the coronavirus, densely populated Vietnam may offer valuable lessons on how to curb its spread with a weak health care system and low budget.
The coronavirus pandemic rages in wealthy European countries, more than 10,000 kilometers away from China, the epicentre of the disease, whereas Vietnam has widely been spared.
Vietnam, which shares a 1,100-kilometer-long border with China, however, has only reported 240 infections and no fatalities since the outbreak began in January.
According to worldometer, in these 240 cases 90 patients have fully recovered and only 3 are in critical condition. Vietnam tested 75,458 people till now which are 775 per million.
Vietnam has proved a model in containing the disease in a country with limited resources but determined leadership.
So, what lessons can Vietnam teach Bangladesh so the government can stem the spread of the virus?
During the Tet New Year celebrations - the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture - at the end of January, its Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was at a government meeting “declaring war” on coronavirus.
Although the outbreak at that time was still confined to China, Phuc warned it would soon reach Vietnam.
“Fighting the epidemic is fighting the enemy,” he said during a meeting of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party.
Isolating and tracking down
Rather than embark on mass testing, which has been the crux of wealthier South Korea’s response to the outbreak, Vietnam has focused on isolating infected people and tracking down their second- and third-hand contacts.
These measures were implemented much earlier in the course of the epidemic than in China, where lockdowns of entire cities were used as a last resort to keep the virus from spreading further.
Apart from aggressive tracing of infected people’s contacts, the communist leadership’s measures have also included forced quarantines and the conscription of medical students, retired doctors, and nurses to join the fight.
On February 12, Vietnam put an entire town of 10,000 near Hanoi under quarantine for three weeks. At this time, there were only 10 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the entire country.
Authorities also widely and meticulously documented anyone who potentially came in contact with the virus.
And from very early on, anyone arriving in Vietnam from a high-risk area would be quarantined for 14 days. All schools and universities have also been closed since the beginning of February.
Surveillance and intrusion
However, Vietnam’s success in containing Covid-19 depends in part on the mobilization of medical and military personnel, surveillance and intrusion, and on the state’s network of informants — measures that might prove difficult for the US or European countries to countenance.
Security officials can be found on every street and crossing in every neighborhood and in every village. The military is also deploying soldiers and materiel in the fight against coronavirus.
This close surveillance largely keeps anyone from slipping through the net or evading regulations.
Part of Vietnam’s approach has also been heavy-handed. People found sharing “fake news” about the virus have been summoned by police and about 800 have been fined.
Vietnam is also applying a kind of war rhetoric in its fight against coronavirus. The premier has said: "Every business, every citizen, every residential area must be a fortress to prevent the epidemic."
This has hit a nerve with many Vietnamese, who are proud of their ability to stand together in a crisis and endure hardships.
State-controlled media have also launched a massive information campaign. The Health Ministry even sponsored a song on YouTube about proper hand-washing that has gone viral.
Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales Canberra, said: “Vietnam is a mobilization society.”
“It is a one-party state; it has large public security forces, the military and the party itself; and it’s a top-down government that’s good at responding to natural disasters.”