COVID-19 in Vietnam: What We Can Learn From a Once Virus-Free Country

Sam Tran ’23

 When the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Wuhan, many countries had the same concern – how to keep their citizens safe from the incoming threat. For countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Russia, the danger was especially high because they all shared a border with China. Vietnam, in particular, acted swiftly, leading to low infection numbers and zero death for the first few months of the pandemic. In fact, the Vietnamese government dealt with the disease so well that the country had no COVID-19 related deaths from September 2020 to May 2021. However, as a large number of the population ignored the safety restrictions and the virus spread silently until the outbreak last August. Once thought of as a COVID-19 miracle, Vietnam is now facing its hardest period in the pandemic yet, with higher daily cases and deaths than ever before. 

 On January 23, 2020, the first case was confirmed in Vietnam when a man came back from Wuhan to visit his son in Ho Chi Minh city. After this event, the Vietnamese government took extreme measures to keep the infection rate under control. Vietnam ramped up testing and contact tracing far faster than neighboring countries and put tens of thousands of people in quarantine if they were suspected of contact with anyone infected or had come from abroad. The response was aided by the surveillance infrastructure of a state that tolerates little opposition as well as widespread popular support that some compared to that of the U.S. war era.

 Throughout the pandemic, Vietnam also kept a clear message to its citizens. By utilizing mass texts sent to mobile phones and government-controlled media to broadcast transmission prevention posts, Vietnam was able to unify the support and compliance with health measures from its people. Songs and short videos were made by public figures to encourage following the government guidelines. Social distancing, a safety protocol that was crucial during the pandemic, was portrayed by the media as an individual sacrifice for the good of others.

 Due to these efforts, Vietnam was able to continue activities as usual, with little changes here and there. From August 2020 to May 2021, schools and businesses resumed, although at a slower pace and with everyone required to wear masks. Travel to and from other countries is still quite limited, but travel within the country is open to its citizens. Economic growth, which slowed down in most countries, has stayed at the same pace as it did before the height of the pandemic. 

 Around May 2021, many Vietnamese citizens believed that it was now safe to reopen the borders for international travel. As such, various outbreaks began to appear across the country. Many attribute this rise in cases to the excessive travel that happened during the National Holiday on April 30. Right now, Vietnam is dealing with 7,000 average daily new cases and seven daily new deaths, which are among the highest it has ever been since the start of the pandemic. 

 The most important lesson to be drawn out of this story is to not lose focus while we are in a period of relative safety. The Berkshire community is in a rather comfortable position compared to other schools around the world. However, this does not mean that we are allowed to ignore safety precautions when we leave or enter the school. We must not only protect ourselves but also those around us.