It’s hard to say what’s more impressive: that Vietnam, a country of almost 100 million people neighboring China reported zero total COVID deaths, or that the government expects the country’s economy to grow by 5% during this massive global recession.
Oh, and last Sunday (14th of June), Vietnam had no new cases of coronavirus, essentially squashing the first wave of infections.
As virtually the entire world is reeling from the impact of the coronavirus, one country seems to be doing surprisingly well. Vietnam, a country led by a communist government, shares a border and deep economic links with China, When the outbreak first started in Wuhan, Vietnam looked like a prime candidate for an outbreak. The country has a few major urban centers, its medical system is not stellar, everything spelled ‘trouble’.
Which is why Vietnam set up a tight quarantine in mid-February. The country understood it lacked the resources to take the disease head-on, so it focused all its resources on prevention. The government deployed an impressive contact-tracing program, distributed regular press releases and announcements via phone, instructing people to wash their hands as frequently as possible.
“The government was very quick to establish strict protocols of contact tracing and isolation,” a local source tells ZME Science. “It was treated with all seriousness, and everyone seemed to understand that it was a threat. The Vietnamese government began to encourage more mask wearing, providing lots of public information, detailed information about cases, and announcing that quarantining and testing would be provided at no charge.”
Vietnam’s approach was initially called an overreaction, but it quickly became apparent that the country had succeeded where many others had failed. Aware of its precarious situation, Vietnam took decisive action, and it worked.
Economic prospects also look good. Vietnam was one of the first countries to re-open after the lockdown and is enjoying a secondary benefit as several large companies (including Apple) have moved manufacturing to Vietnam, to hedge against over-reliance on China.
While the IMF and World Bank prognosis are not as optimistic as Vietnam’s national economic prediction, they too predict growth for the East-Asian country.
With pragmatism and a steady hand, Vietnam seems to be emerging as a true coronavirus success story.
Not all is rosy in Vietnam
It should be said, however, that Vietnam is often considered a surveillance state. Citizens are monitored both online and offline, by “standing armies of neighborhood wardens and public security officers who keep constant watch over city blocks,” Bill Hayton and Tro Ly Ngheo write in Foreign Policy. This type of surveillance has also proven extremely effective in tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
However, there is also a darker side to this. Hundreds of people have reportedly been fined for undermining the “national unifying cause”, in some cases even for things such as social media posts. At least three people have been jailed for this type of blanket offense.
Vietnam has been the world’s fastest rising economy, after China, but its economic liberalization has not been accompanied by similar social reforms. Instead, despite remarkable economic progress, many of Vietnam’s social policies echo neighboring China’s.
However, unlike China, there is no evidence of a coronavirus cover-up. It seems that with its surveillance approach, Vietnam has genuinely had success in managing the pandemic.
More than one way to pandemic success
Vietnam’s story highlights that there is more than one way to keep the disease in check. We’ve seen a very democratic and open approach in places like Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, and Japan work wonders, but this shows that authoritarian states can also enjoy success.
The pandemic has also raised an intriguing correlation — or rather, the lack of one: there is no apparent connection between how democratic a country is and how well COVID has been kept in check, you have a mixed bag of results in all sides.
For every Germany and New Zealand, there’s a Sweden and UK, scrambling under the challenge — and if you think authoritarian countries are doing well, the four countries with the largest number of cases all have authoritarian leaders (India, Russia, Brazil, and the US).
There’s more than one approach that can work, and since there are success stories on different sides of the political spectrum, it just goes to show that there are indeed ways to control the disease if you take it seriously enough.