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Vietnam’s evolving anti-pandemic measures are instructive for other countries

India’s current Covid surge has been truly devastating. Daily cases recorded remain above 250,000 while the total death toll from the pandemic has crossed 290,000 with the country recording nearly 50,000 deaths in the 14 days up to May 11. The entire healthcare infrastructure of the country has been stretched to the limit. While several nations are now rushing different types of aid and equipment to help India fight the pandemic, administrators here must learn from the current surge and prepare better for the next wave of Covid cases.

And one lesson that should be taken to heart is to not take our eyes off this pandemic. We are dealing with an unprecedented virus that can infect people for weeks and months, and mutate in a very short time. In other words, this virus is constantly evolving and the more people it infects, the more variants it can produce that are in turn more infectious and capable to some extent of escaping vaccine generated antibody immunity. Thus, even if cases come down, we must continue to do genome sequencing to trace variants and quickly vaccinate people to build herd protection if not herd immunity. After all, India went from around 18,000 daily cases in January to more than 400,000 daily cases at the peak of the current surge.

In this regard, one country that is keeping its razor-sharp focus on pandemic mitigation measures is Vietnam. It quickly put in place a new leadership earlier this year and new Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has hit the ground running. In fact, last year Vietnam had effectively controlled the spread of Covid through strict quarantine and contact tracing measures that saw authorities track down and test individuals up to four times removed from the initial patients. In essence, Vietnam adopted a whole of government approach to tackle the pandemic on a war footing. These efforts saw Vietnam record zero deaths from Covid for a long time last year. Even today, Vietnam has recorded a little more than 4,900 total Covid cases with just 41 deaths from the disease so far.

And in managing to keep a lid on the pandemic last year, Vietnam was able to push its economic growth even in an extremely volatile global environment, and ended 2020 with a GDP growth rate of 3%. Moreover, in the first four months of this year, Vietnam’s trade with the rest of the world hit a 10-year high of $206.51 billion, or a year-on-year increase of 29.5% with exports increasing by 28.3% to $103.9 billion, resulting in a trade surplus of $1.29 billion. That is really impressive considering the economic devastation Covid wrought in most parts of the world.

But even more impressive is the fact that Vietnam is not taking its eyes off the ball and resting on its achievements. PM Chinh’s recent pronouncements show that the Vietnamese government is fully aware of the folly in relaxing anti-pandemic measures. After all, as I mentioned before, the Covid virus has the ability to infect people for long durations and mutate very quickly. Therefore, the only way for countries to keep their populations safe is by adopting a dynamic approach to the pandemic. And Vietnam is doing precisely that in recognition of the fact that the pandemic has now entered a complicated phase with multiple variants on the loose.

In fact, evidence that the virus is evolving and protocols need to be updated come from Vietnam itself where in recent weeks there have been some local outbreaks after people came in contact with a Vietnamese man and a Chinese national both of whom tested positive for Covid even after completing the mandatory 14-day quarantine period. This has prompted the government led by PM Chinh to reinforce the anti-pandemic guidelines and instruct local authorities to implement them strictly. The central leadership has also called for punishing violators, clarifying the responsibilities of individuals and organisations in the pandemic fight, and making localities take responsibility for the anti-pandemic measures instead of waiting for instructions from the top. Additionally, Vietnamese authorities are looking to boost both testing capacity and vaccination to actively attack the pandemic instead of just playing defence.

Thus, there is much that other nations can learn from Vietnam’s approach to Covid. Vietnam has been actively chasing the pandemic instead of playing catch up. And even though its measures were very successful in controlling the pandemic last year, it is not letting its guard down and actively monitoring new outbreaks and swiftly trying to control them. This is precisely the level of focus and commitment that is required to fight this pandemic and save lives. Plus, PM Chinh’s emphasis that localities take greater responsibility for anti-pandemic measures is a step in the right direction. After all, the nature of spread of Covid suggests that the disease only gets out of hand when not identified, isolated and managed at the local level. Therefore, it is very important that cities and provinces quickly identify cases and strictly enforce anti-pandemic measures.

Besides, PM Chinh’s decentralised approach to dealing with the pandemic also makes sense from an economic point of view. For, the pandemic usually doesn’t affect all regions of a country equally at the same time. Focussed local management will ensure that disease hotspots are put under strict supervision while other parts of the country are allowed to continue with normal or near-normal commercial activities. This in turn will ensure that the overall economy doesn’t suffer and curb the government’s financial capacity to tackle the pandemic.

Thus, Vietnam is taking the right steps to deal with the evolving nature of the pandemic by adopting a flexible, nimble and decentralised approach. It has been pretty much on top of things so far. Other nations witnessing surges in Covid cases will do well to take note of Vietnam’s anti-pandemic measures.

 



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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