HANOI, April 16 (Vietnam News/ANN) — As the global number of COVID-19 cases surpasses the two million level, Việt Nam has started to receive international accolades for its all-out efforts that have managed to keep its tally considerably low given its close proximity to China.
Strict mass quarantine, intensive contact tracing, early sealing off of borders with virus-hit regions, decisive leadership and social unity were cited as the reasons for Việt Nam’s initial successes against the onslaught of the novel coronavirus despite having limited resources, while many other advanced nations buckle under an explosion of patients with deaths running up to the thousands.
As of April 15, Việt Nam has 267 confirmed COVID-19 cases by 6pm yesterday since the first cases were reported on January 23, with more than half of them foreigners or Vietnamese returning from overseas and 60 per cent of the cases already recovered. Only 96 active cases remain in treatment, and the country has upheld the envious record of zero deaths for months now.
Nearly 133,000 tests have been conducted to date, while nearly 68,000 people who either recently returned from virus-hit regions or have close contacts with confirmed cases are currently placed under quarantine – including 533 under close observation in hospitals.
Kidong Park, the World Health Organisation’s representative to Việt Nam, noted that Việt Nam’s success can be attributed to its swift and early response to the virus, with the first risk assessment drill held in early January, just when the first reports of a mysterious pneumonia-like disease in China started to crop up.
The WHO official has also lauded Việt Nam for its “proactiveness and consistency throughout the response, ” while the US ambassador to Việt Nam Daniel Kritenbrink has hailed the Vietnamese Government for its outstanding response to the disease and for its cooperation and transparency.
Việt Nam’s Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc declared the novel coronavirus outbreak an epidemic and officially grounded all flights to and from China at the beginning of February. The land borders have been frequently patrolled to prevent illegal entries.
Thanks to the early actions that were seen by Harvard infectious disease expert Todd Pollack as inspired by its experience during the SARS outbreak in 2003, Việt Nam’s official tally in the “first wave” of virus infections – colloquially used to refer to the domestically reported cases that traced back to China when Wuhan remained the epicentre of the COVID-19 – stood at merely 16.
The 16th case was confirmed on February 13. The country enjoyed a relative lull with no new cases until March 6, when a Vietnamese socialite tested positive for the virus after visiting Italy and the UK, marking the beginning of the so-called “second wave” of infections where the new epicentre of the outbreak started to shift to European countries and the spike in new positive cases in Việt Nam were imported.
Starting March 15, the country started to deny entry from UK and Schengen countries before closing down its border completely for foreign entries on March 22 as quarantine sites started to burgeon due to its strict 14-day compulsory quarantine policy for all arrivals.
The ASEAN Post noted how Việt Nam has implemented strict contact tracing measures to break up transmission chains, stamp out local outbreaks and prevent widespread community transmission.
“Mass testing is good, but it depends on the resources of each country, ” said Trần Đắc Phu, a senior health official advising Việt Nam’s Emergency Operation Centre, likely referring to the mass testing strategy that the more technologically advanced South Korea and the US have been doing when their case numbers spike.
“Việt Nam has successfully conducted tracing via the quick identification of infectious contacts based on the Ministry of Health’s classifications of infected, suspected, and exposed cases of COVID-19 and the rapid mobilisation of health professionals, public security personnel, the military, and civil servants to implement the tracing, ” noted the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada in its report.
The Financial Times offered an insight into how Việt Nam has earned praise the world over for a “low-cost model” in its offensive against SARS-CoV-2, again citing stringent isolation, contact tracing measures and “determined leadership” for the country’s successes.
During the outbreak, Việt Nam's health ministry in cooperation with telecom giants have rolled out the nCoV app available on both mobile platforms Android and iOS. Bundled inside the app is updated information on the pandemic situation in the country and the world, official links to information resources on the disease, electronic health declaration forms, a map of all detected infection cases and clusters, and reporting of suspected cases. The user can watch the movement of all those placed under quarantine.
Despite low cases, the Vietnamese Government repeatedly urged vigilance and reiterated messages of protective measures – staying home, avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks, washing hands – in all forms of media to the public on various platforms.