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How Vietnam Contains the Coronavirus

2020-5-4

Students across Vietnam returned to their classrooms Monday. The classes had been closed for three months to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

“I am so excited to go back to school, to be with my teachers and my classmates after three months,” said Chu Quang Anh, a sixth-grade student in the capital, Hanoi.

Students are required to wear masks that cover their nose and mouth. There are also other measures in place to lessen the spread of the virus.

“We have hand sanitizers available in many places. The students are scanned for temperatures at the gate when they enter the school and when they are in the classrooms and their health is recorded,” said teacher Dinh Bich Hien.

A student is scanned for temperature before entering Dinh Cong secondary school in Hanoi, Vietnam Monday, May 4, 2020.
A student is scanned for temperature before entering Dinh Cong secondary school in Hanoi, Vietnam Monday, May 4, 2020.

Vietnam, a country of 96 million people, has confirmed 271 cases of new coronavirus. No deaths have been reported. On Monday, health officials said the country had gone 18 days without any new cases of COVID-19.

Wealthy countries like the United States and some in Europe continue to struggle to control the spread of the disease. Vietnam is much more limited resources. So, why has it been able to deal effectively with the health crisis?

Early action

Public health experts say Vietnam has been successful partly because it reacted fast. Early in the coronavirus spread, Vietnam restricted travel into the country and put tens of thousands of people into quarantine. Also, experts note, the country expanded testing and tracked people who might have been in contact with anyone reported infected.

Matthew Moore is a Hanoi-based official from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He said, “The steps are easy to describe but difficult to implement, yet they’ve been very successful at implementing them over and over again.”

As early as Jan. 23, Vietnam suspended flights to and from the Chinese city of Wuhan. A week after that, Vietnam effectively closed its 1,400 kilometer border with China. Only the most critical trading was permitted.

Phan Quoc Viet, a businessman, was praying at a religious center when he received a telephone call from the government. “The official said Vietnam needed to act quickly,” said Viet. His company Viet A Corp makes test equipment.

In early January, Vietnam had only three laboratories that could test for COVID-19. By April, it had increased that number to 112 laboratories.

In addition to testing, the government started a contact-tracing program and locked down tens of thousands of people. Many of them were Vietnamese returning from Europe and the United States. By the middle of March, Vietnam had also begun to require face masks in public places nationwide.

Questions about the numbers

The Reuters news agency reported that the Vietnamese government did not answer questions about the country’s efforts against the virus. But the World Health Organization’s representative in Vietnam said there was no sign of additional infections beyond what had been reported by the government.

Vietnam has been helped, experts said, by the combination of its one-party leadership and a cooperative population that remembers past epidemics.

“It is organized, it can make country-wide policy decisions that get enacted quickly and efficiently,” said Guy Thwaites, the director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thwaites’ laboratory has been helping to process tests for COVID-19. Thwaites said the number of positive tests processed by his lab was in agreement with government reports on the spread.

Reuters contacted operators of 13 funeral homes in Hanoi. All said they had not seen an increase in deaths. One said requests for funerals had gone down during the country’s lockdown because there had been fewer traffic accidents, a major cause of death in Vietnam.

Todd Pollack is a Hanoi-based infectious diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School. He said that less than 10 percent of the people who tested positive for the virus in Vietnam were over 60 – the age group most likely to die from COVID-19. All patients, he added, were closely watched in health centers and given good medical care.

Tran Viet Hung, a ninth grader in Hanoi, spoke to the news site VN Express, "I was so excited to see my friends again,” he said, adding, “but we only dared to talk to each other from a distance, via the face masks."

I’m Caty Weaver.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on reporting from Reuters and the Associated Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

sanitizer - n. substance used to thoroughly clean something from disease, infection, etc.

scan - v. to look a something using a special machine or device

quarantine - n. the situation of being kept away from others to prevent a disease from spreading

implement - v. to make something active or effective

contact-tracing - n. the action of monitoring infected people and notifying those who come in contact with them

epidemic - n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people

positive - adj. in medical, showing the presence of a particular germ, condition