As the globe approaches the fifth month of the pandemic, Vietnam reports a remarkably low rate of infection in a country of 95 million inhabitants, with only 324 reported cases (61 active and 263 recovered) without any deaths as of May 22. The condition linked with the latest coronavirus, with more than 140 individuals recovered completely.
Researchers claim that, unlike many nations currently having large-scale diseases and fatalities, Vietnam saw a small chance to intervene early and exploited this opportunity to its maximum capacity.
Yet although the approach taken is intrusive and labour-intensive it is also cost-effective. There are also some drawbacks and critics say that it could be too late for other countries to take advantage of its success. It came down to a three-pronged policy to save people from the gates for death. While not all of these policy decisions might be compatible in preserving civil rights, they are vital to ensure the pandemic at bay.
“When you’re dealing with these kinds of unknown novel potentially dangerous pathogens, it’s better to overreact,” says Dr Todd Pollack of Harvard’s Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam in Hanoi.
Vietnam planned for the pandemic even before the case has been reported. Having realized that even moderate spread of the virus would easily overwhelm its healthcare infrastructure, Vietnam chose prevention early, and on a wide scale.
The Vietnamese government had launched “drastic action” to manage for this mysterious pneumonia that had already killed two people in Wuhan.
Vietnam drew up measures that would take several weeks for other countries come forward with, introducing restrictions on travel, closely monitoring and eventually closing the border with China, and health check-up points at borders and other such susceptible places.
All the schools were closed at the end of January for the Lunar New Year break, and then kept closed until mid-May. A vast and intensive interaction monitoring operation was therefore launched.
“This is a country that has dealt with a lot of outbreaks in the past,” says Prof Thwaites, from Sars. “The government and population are very, very used to dealing with infectious diseases and are respectful of them, probably far more so than wealthier countries. They know how to respond to these things.”
Vietnamese Strategies to battle COVID 19
Since early January, the government has been actively conveying the severity of the coronavirus to people. That it is something that needs to be taken incredibly seriously, and people are made aware so that they do not risk the well-being of themselves or others.
From the very early stages daily message notifications were sent to mobile phones and people were told what they should do to defend themselves. In the battle against a mutual adversary, Vietnam employed its already-present publicity machine to conduct a robust advertising program, relying on wartime images and slogans to rally the general population to stand united against a common enemy.
It gave the sense of “society working together to defeat the enemy”, says Dr Pollack.
They had a better chance of fighting the virus themselves, and were never able to put, for example, elderly relatives at risk, which meant the medical system could focus its resources on the few critical cases. A woman flying home from Australia considered Vietnam a safer place according to BBC News. Vietnam had “only one mat, no pillows, no blankets” and one fan for the hot room on their first night.
More than 10,000 residents residing in the local region were sealed off in February, following a number of incidents in Son Loi, north of Hanoi. The same would adhere to 11,000 residents outside the capital in the Ha Loi Township, and to a hospital’s workers and patients.
Everybody arriving at an airport in a major Vietnamese region, since February, would have to go through mandatory body temperature monitoring and complete a safety self-declaration listing their contact information and traveling and medical records. Such steps are currently compulsory for anyone who reaches major cities and in certain provinces by land, and for all those who visit a government building or hospital.
For further rigorous examination, anybody with a body temperature higher
Than 38degrees C should be referred to the closest medical centre. People who have been found to either have misinformed in their self-declaration, or who oppose declaration entirely, will be prosecuted.
During mid-March quarantine centres were set up and anyone who arrived in Vietnam and anyone having contact with a confirmed case was sent to these centres for 14 days. The state paid the costs largely, while housing was not inherently luxurious.
Banks, businesses and restaurants and residential complexes had their own assessment procedures implemented. No-one will be permitted in or out before two weeks of no reported incidents had passed.
The emergency project for Vietnam was set in motion January 23 onwards, when the first case of the virus was verified -a man who had travelled from Wuhan to visit his son in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Itvery quickly acted in ways which seemed to be quite extreme at the time but were subsequently shown to be rather sensible,” says Prof Guy Thwaites, Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU), he works with the governmental infection control programme in Ho Chi Minh City.
The government’s data is so remarkably strong low that there are obvious doubts arising on its reliability. But seeing the precautions adapted and the general opinion of the critics and the medical community removes any trace of doubt.
Prof Thwaites’s says if there had been unreported, undiagnosed or missed cases “we would have seen them on the ward – and we haven’t”. His team based in the country’s main infectious diseases hospital, carried out nearly 20,000 tests, and he says their results match the government’s data.
The implementation of social isolation and quarantine was focused on its etched network of “loyal neighbourhood party cadres spying on area residents and reporting to superiors” says Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson.
But no news of such adverse incidents has come up due to the government’s strong hold on the country’s media. In fact there have been cases of fining or prosecution of people who have criticised the government policies.
The tremendous effect on the economy and the degree to which the single-minded virus program has ignored various other social and medical issues is also not yet apparent.
Prof. Thwaites says the kind of policies implemented in Vietnam “just wouldn’t stand up” in countries now struggling from serious infections but “the lesson is there”
Dr Pollack says the government did “a really good job of communicating to the public” why what it was doing was necessary.
Even if we consider the cases that have not been identified by the officials yet, it can be undoubtedly asserted that the Vietnamese strategy has been successful in halting the dissemination of the deadly virus. Implementing these steps and following the rule of prevention is always better than a cure, indicate that Vietnam has not yet witnessed any large-scale epidemic that would ravage a town like Ho Chi Minh City with about 11 million inhabitants and overpower the nation’s national healthcare network.
Meanwhile Vietnam’s approach to leadership from top-down reaches the community level, which brings its own problems, but if Vietnam had to experience a rather significant number of cases, they would have to struggle given the prevalent healthcare facilities in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s strategy’s consisting of a three legged shutdown might not be entirely compatible with liberal values but they do work. The healthcare system could manage each patient and thus hold at nil the amounts of COVID-19 fatalities. Vietnam provides valuable insights as COVID-19 is expected to begin to expand through developed nations.
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