Viet Nam vs. COVID-19: How one small nation defeated a global enemy

This pleasant neighborhood is Tan Binh District, Ward 7, a typical middle-to-low-income district in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Residents work in both government and the private sector and many live in multi-generational households. Some are vendors; the photographer writes, “Some work hard selling homemade banh mi thit (meat sandwiches), xoi (sticky rice) and nuoc mia (sugar cane juice).” This photo was taken April 23, during lockdown, when the streets were nearly deserted. – Photo: ©Lê Thị Xuan Ninh

by Anh Lê

Viet Nam and the Vietnamese people have confronted the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and their quick and united national response has produced remarkable results and earned the recognition of top public health experts and organizations around the world.

COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, was first reported to infect people in Wuhan, China, around December 2019 and January 2020. There were many infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Wuhan.

Viet Nam acted swiftly to defeat the COVID-19 coronavirus. Viet Nam’s government and Ministry of Health took early actions as soon as it became aware of the COVID-19 epidemic that struck Wuhan.

Viet Nam ordered mandatory 14-day quarantines for anyone entering the country. It performed quick screenings at Hanoi’s Noi Ba Airport and Tan Son Nhat Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. It suspended flights to and from China.

Viet Nam organized quarantine camps to house overseas citizens who were returning home.

Viet Nam’s measures to combat COVID-19 included not only quarantines and self-isolation, but also contact tracing of its citizens.

The government required that anyone who had been infected with COVID-19 be quarantined and self-isolate and report all the people that person had come in contact with, so that those individuals would also have to be quarantined.

It implemented a strict community surveillance plan in which neighbors were required to report anyone infected with COVID-19.

The government ordered a 21-day quarantine in the village of Son Loi, in Vinh Phuc province, north of Hanoi, to prevent COVID-19 infection. At quarantine camps, the government required “social distancing” among the people who were housed there.

This pleasant neighborhood is Tan Binh District, Ward 7, a typical middle-to-low-income district in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Residents work in both government and the private sector and many live in multi-generational households. Some are vendors; the photographer writes, “Some work hard selling homemade banh mi thit (meat sandwiches), xoi (sticky rice) and nuoc mia (sugar cane juice).” This photo was taken April 23, during lockdown, when the streets were nearly deserted. – Photo: ©Lê Thị Xuan Ninh

The government ordered schools to close since January.

A mass quarantine or national lockdown began on March 16. People were ordered to self-isolate at home. People were required to wear masks. “Social distancing” was required. Buses and taxis stopped running.

A strong national public health education campaign on COVID-19 informed the Vietnamese people what they were being asked to do throughout the country. Large street signs on COVID-19, public service announcements, daily briefings from the government, and information on COVID-19 in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio informed the public. It was a united national effort for the country of 96 million people.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc called on the nation of Viet Nam and the Vietnamese people to be united in “the spring general offensive of 2020.”

Emergency response teams were spread throughout Viet Nam. People were urged to go to their health care facility if they felt they had symptoms of COVID-19.

The number of COVID-19 infections in Viet Nam has been very low, in the range of 200, and there have been no deaths from the coronavirus. As of May 1, there were 270 confirmed cases of infection.

Viet Nam’s success in combating COVID-19 has been recognized and applauded by the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and other top public health and infectious disease experts.

The U.S. ambassador to Viet Nam, Daniel Kritenbrink, praised Viet Nam’s success in combatting COVID-19 during a recent visit to Orange County, California, home of the largest Vietnamese American community in the U.S., where he spoke to Vietnamese American media.

Viet Nam has not only been successful in defeating COVID-19 on its home front, it has also reached out to the international community to help other nations.

This is the full first grade English class at Nguyen Thanh Nguyen Primary School on their first day back to school. PRI International suggests naming Viet Nam “coronavirus-fighting champ of the world” for its zero-death record in a nation of 96 million people. The virus was first detected there at the same time as in the U.S., in late January, but Vietnamese officials immediately educated the public, saying the virus is “threatening the human race” and broadcasting jingles like the one below, and the public bought in. “We have this sense of the collective good,” one analyst explained. – Photo: ©Lê Thị Xuan Ninh

Viet Nam hosted a virtual Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to coordinate efforts to combat COVID-19.

Viet Nam also donated supplies and medical aid to Laos, Cambodia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Russia, France, Britain and the U.S.

Viet Nam donated 450,000 personal protective suits to the U.S., which it produced in 10 days in a ramped-up program. It shipped the suits from Hanoi to Dallas, Texas.

Viet Nam was also planning to donate an additional 450,000 personal protective suits to the United States. Both shipments would go to the United States’ Strategic National Stockpile and be distributed throughout the U.S.

Viet Nam has also donated other supplies, such as face shields, masks and shoe covers.

On Viet Nam’s government website, it states that Viet Nam’s donations are given in “(the) spirit of mutual support to partner countries, including the U.S.” and “this is also Viet Nam’s participation and contribution to the global effort to push back the COVID-19 epidemic.”

As we honor and applaud Viet Nam’s success in combatting COVID-19, we also pause to reflect on and commemorate the date, April 30, 1975.

On that date, the War in Viet Nam ended, 45 years ago. In that war, almost 4 million Vietnamese children, women and men were killed; 58,220 American soldiers perished.

In Viet Nam, the United States military dropped four times the tonnage of bombs dropped in Europe during World War II.

The historical record of the Viet Nam War also shows that the United States unleashed all of its military armaments on the nation of Viet Nam and the Vietnamese people, including B-52 bombers, napalm, cluster bombs, and the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange.

In the same neighborhood is this residential street, also deserted during lockdown, featuring a children’s playground with swings and slides. But it’s not only for children; whole families come – parents, children and even young people. The photographer writes: “We do exercises. We walk. We play badminton. It has a very neighborhood feeling. It is always very safe.” – Photo: ©Lê Thị Xuan Ninh

The historical record also shows that the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, waged war in Viet Nam, a small area of Southeast Asia, and perpetrated horrific acts of war against the Vietnamese people such as the My Lai Massacre.

On April 30, 1975, the Vietnamese prevailed.

The Viet Nam War ended.

The killing and bloodshed stopped.

When we see how Viet Nam is helping the United States during this COVID-19 pandemic, we not only see Viet Nam’s generosity and large heart to the U.S. and the international community, we also see that Viet Nam displays the true meaning of “turning swords into plowshares” in its humanitarian assistance to the United States and the American people.

Let us reclaim our belief in the sanctity and preciousness of human life.

Chuc Nuoc Viet Nam Hoa Binh Mai Mai!

May Viet Nam Enjoy Everlasting Peace!

Anh Lê is an independent journalist. Copyright ©Anh Lê, May 1, 2020.

PHOTO: Two students in 1st grade English class at Nguyen Thanh Nguyen Primary School in Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City, on 1st day back to school from lockdown 051120 by teacher-photographer ©Lê Thị Xuan Ninh