ASEAN Beat | Society | Southeast Asia

Vietnam’s Next Wave of COVID-19 Has Arrived

Community transmission has made a comeback, but Vietnam is ready.

By Phuong Pham for
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Vietnam’s Next Wave of COVID-19 Has Arrived

A masked man walks past a poster encouraging people to wear face masks correctly in Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr. 23, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Hau Dinh

Vietnam just confirmed four new community cases in Da Nang, ending its 99-day streak of no community transmission of COVID-19. Vietnam now faces the risk of the next COVID-19 wave, which has been seen in many other countries . Nevertheless, Vietnam will likely be able to bring the next wave under control, thanks to its experience and its improved readiness in terms of necessary equipment.

Vietnam has a lot of experience in battling against pandemics, not only COVID-19. Vietnam suffered from the SARS outbreak in 2003, and became the first country to put it under control. With regard to the COVID-19, Vietnam announced the first two cases (a Chinese man travelling from Wuhan and his son) on January 30, 2020, which was earlier than most countries in the region, particularly in Southeast Asia. Being hit by the pandemic early made Vietnam better aware of the importance of containing the virus’ spread. The Vietnamese government took measures early to contain the spread of COVID-19, and it has successfully controlled previous two waves, respectively in January and March, illustrated by its current low case count and zero deaths. Hence, the government can be optimistic that with its previous experience, Vietnam can handle the next wave well.

The experience of dealing with two previous waves may also be helpful for Vietnam in tackling the newest cases in Da Nang. On the night of March 6, when the 17th case was reported in Hanoi, the city held an urgent meeting, then coordinated with related ministries — including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Public Security, and Ministry of Transportation — to prevent the virus from spreading to the community. Thanks to this effective coordination, public health measures such as aggressive contact tracing, mandatory quarantine, and sterilization of surfaces were taken immediately, which enabled the government to stop community transmission and lift the large-scale lockdown still common in many Southeast Asian nations at that time.

Recently, when the 416th case was reported — the first case of community spread after 99 days without a local infection – Da Nang’s local government followed the same patterns as Hanoi did before. Directive 16 on social distancing was issued, banning the gathering of more than two people in public places; mass screening and sterilization campaigns were conducted, and the number of people coming in and out of Da Nang was highly restricted. With these stringent actions, Da Nang may be well able to control COVID-19’s community spread, and Vietnam may be able to handle this wave through a local lockdown on vulnerable places like Da Nang and its neighboring provinces, instead of returning to the national scale lockdown of several months ago.

Importantly, this time, as it has been fighting against the pandemic for half a year, Vietnam is better equipped with more advanced equipment, which is essential for resisting the next potential COVID-19 wave. Before the latest wave, Vietnam tackled the pandemic with quite a tight budget. The country was thus unable to test for the virus on a massive scale, as seen in some Asian countries with more advanced health care systems, such as South Korea, Singapore, or Taiwan. Currently, although its medical budget is still just a fraction of those countries’, Vietnam’s medical equipment has been gradually improved, enabling it to implement more effective actions on a larger scale to counter the virus.

This is true in the case of Da Nang. Not only has the local government been highly responsive to the new cases as noted before, but also it has used more advanced instruments for testing. The Ministry of Health has been conducting mass testing in all areas with high risk of infections by using the Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent assay (Elisa) test kit that was developed and released in the end of April by Vietnamese and Japanese experts. This Elisa test kit is much cheaper than the imported one (just $5), with accuracy of up to 95 percent, significantly higher than other testing methods. In these respects, the new test kit could help Da Nang to detect new infections more effectively, which would increase the efficiency of the local government and related agencies in tracing the virus and taking necessary quarantine methods to stop local infections.

Indeed, thanks to mass testing with this new type of kit, 11 new cases were confirmed on July 27 in Da Nang, and the local government has isolated all of them immediately to prevent the community transmission.

The better equipment is also helpful for Vietnam in raising the community’s awareness, which is considered as one of the main factors for its previous effectiveness in containing COVID-19. Due to the new cases in Da Nang, several provinces require people, especially those who have come back from the city, to use mobile apps such as NCOVI and Bluezone, which were developed with the input of the Ministry of Information and Communication, to update their health status regularly so local governments can closely monitor the pandemic situation and respond in a timely manner. Besides, these apps also help users to know where new cases have recently been detected and how to stay healthy amid the pandemic, which are necessary for them to avoid being infected. Given the potential of the next outbreak, the Ministry of Information and Communication may coordinate with other related agencies to update the apps soon with more functions.

Despite successfully countering COVID-19 since the very first day, Vietnam is still in the war against the pandemic, as Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam recently emphasized. Given what it has done so far as well as what it is doing currently, Vietnam is expected to be able to maintain the momentum of fighting against the virus before a vaccine is distributed. In this respect, even if the next wave comes, Vietnam can deal with it effectively as it did over the past months – provided it stays the course.

Phuong Pham is a master’s candidate at School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London. He has written for several online platforms, including East Asia Forum, Global-is-Asian, and The Geopolitics.