By Eric San Juan
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- With limited resources, Vietnam sought to preempt the COVID-19 pandemic using preventive measures such as mass quarantines and comprehensive tracking of possible cases, which has helped it to contain the number of confirmed cases to 194 with no deaths so far.
“Investment during peacetime,” “early activation of a response system” and “a whole-of-society approach under strong leadership” can be highlighted as reasons for Vietnam’s success so far, Park Kidong, a World Health Organization (WHO) official in Hanoi, told EFE.
The novel coronavirus was first reported in Vietnam on Jan. 23 after two Chinese nationals tested positive for the infection.
The cases were reported at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, one of the longest holidays during which millions of Vietnamese citizens take the opportunity to travel inside and outside the country, and thousands of Chinese tourists visit Vietnam.
By then, Park notes that the country had been on guard for weeks and in early January, when the first coronavirus infections in China were made public, it had already carried out the first risk assessments and created a special management committee.
Regarding prior preparation “in peacetime,” the WHO representative emphasized that Vietnam already had an action plan ready in the event of a pandemic, which saved weeks of work.
On Feb. 2, with just six confirmed cases, the communist regime in Hanoi had already suspended flights from the most affected areas of China, canceled entry visas, quarantined hundreds of people and closed schools across most of the country.
In the following weeks, containment measures such as the isolation of the entire region near Hanoi – the first of its kind outside of China – were followed by meticulous tracking of all who had come into contact with infected individuals to stop local transmission.
The government created a mobile-phone app to facilitate tracking, but in general it has carried it out in a rudimentary way, taking advantage of the authorities’ intricate surveillance network down to neighborhood level.
These measures, and a vigilant population ready to alert authorities to the slightest suspicion of infection in their neighborhood, helped stop the first wave of infections in a month at 16 confirmed cases, all which recovered.
“If fighting COVID-19 has been a war, then we have won the first round but not the entire war because the situation can be very unpredictable,” Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said in late February.
The respite was short-lived: a few days later, after more than three weeks without any new infections, COVID-19 returned with travelers from Europe and South Korea, and local infections began to occur, forcing the authorities to step up testing and toughen restrictions.
So far, Vietnam has carried out around 35,000 tests in a country with a population of 95 million, but the government announced that the number will increase in the coming weeks, and is taking advantage of the fact that a local manufacturer is producing 10,000 kits a day.
Among the measures, the quarantining of travelers entering Vietnam stands out. This was at first selective, depending on the country of origin, and became generalized along with virus detection tests from Mar. 18.
Thanks to this measure, the vast majority of those infected in recent weeks were already in isolation when they tested positive.
Currently there are 36,713 people in quarantine centers run by the military throughout the country, along with thousands of people in imposed and voluntary isolation in their homes.
Although the number of confirmed patients is 194 (25 cured), there are more than 3,200 suspected cases and Bach Mai hospital in Hanoi had to be closed down after the detection of 25 infections linked to it.
Some cases of tourists who traveled the country without knowing that they were carriers of the virus and that of a Vietnamese citizen who returned from a religious gathering in Malaysia infected keep the authorities on alert, tightening restrictions in recent weeks.
Air and land borders have been practically closed since Mar. 22, with exceptions for the repatriation of nationals, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered police to go house-to-house to check the health of all who entered the country after Mar. 8.