How Viet Nam's “Low-Cost Model” Stopped COVID-19 in its Tracks

Limited resources did not stop Viet Nam from implementing a quick and effective response against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). As countries all over the world work to overcome the novel coronavirus outbreak, Viet Nam, a country with a population of 95 million, boasts a remarkably low infection rate of only 271 total confirmed cases and no deaths, according to the World Health Organization situational report (as of 5 May 2020). 

What’s the secret to Viet Nam’s ‘success’ in handling the COVID-19 pandemic? An article by the Diplomat gives a run through of how Viet Nam responded swiftly, decisively, and effectively to stop the virus in its tracks. 


Early Preparation

Viet Nam prepared for the outbreak early, even before its recorded first case. Ministries and relevant agencies, under the guidance of the Ministry of Health, were tasked to undertake drastic measures to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading into the country, as early as 17 January. This includes close monitoring of the development of the disease in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and strengthening medical quarantine at border gates, airports, and seaports. 

  • The Ministry of Health was assigned to urgently issue an action plan of response to the disease following regulations and recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO), ensure sufficient facilities and medical materials, and make sure staff are properly trained. 
  • The Ministry of Information and Communication was asked to cooperate with the Ministry of Health to provide timely and accurate information on the disease’s developments. 
  • By 21 January, the Ministry of Health issued an urgent dispatch on prevention and control of the ‘acute pneumonia disease outbreak,’ then known as novel coronavirus 2019 (2019-nCoV). Hospitals and clinics nationwide were told to set up measures for early detection and prevention to the disease. All hospitals were required to set up rapid reaction teams to confront the high risk of the disease spreading. 


Ramped Up Response upon Confirmation of First Cases

Viet Nam ramped up its response shortly after it recorded its first cases on 23 January. 

  • On 30 January, the National Steering Committee on Epidemic Prevention was organized. This was the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This was two days before the Lunar New Year holidays. 
  • On 1 February, with only six confirmed cases, the country declared the 2019-nCoV a national epidemic. The Government announced a number of preventive measures, including declaring and making reports of outbreak; providing checkups, emergency, and treatment; medical isolation; improving sanitation; conducting individual protection; controlling the travel to and from the affected areas; mobilizing resources for the epidemic control; and promoting international cooperation against the epidemic. It also prepared to deploy field hospitals, as needed. Lao Cai, a Vietnamese city which shares two international border gates with PRC, has tightened medical checks and provided medical masks and hand sanitizer to drivers at immigration checkpoints.
  • The Ministry of Health quickly moved to further mobilize the population against the disease. On 8 February, it held a teleconference with hospitals at all levels nationwide to discuss how to popularize prevention and treatment measures against the novel coronavirus. It was also attended by experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), representatives from health departments and disease control centers in provinces and cities, and local authorities across the country. 
  • Furthermore, an official website for vital and accurate information of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country was launched on 9 February. On 11 February, the WHO officially named 2019-nCoV as “COVID-19.” 


Early Success and Entry to Phase 2

By the end of February, all of Viet Nam’s 16 cases had fully recovered. On 27 February, the U.S. Center for Diseases Control (CDC) removed Viet Nam from the list of countries with risk of community spread of the virus.

However, on 6 March, Viet Nam confirmed patient 17, a returning traveler from Europe. On 8 March, Deputy Prime Minister  and Minister of Health Vu Duc Dam announced Viet Nam officially entered the second phase of the fight against COVID-19. He emphasized that this phase is even more difficult than the first one, because the disease had already spread to more than 100 countries. He reassured his countrymen that they are ready to respond to any circumstance.

On 10 March, the Ministry of Health launched the health declaration mobile application NCOVI. They urged Vietnamese citizens and foreign arrivals to update their health status on the mobile app. The WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March.


More Drastic and Robust Measures for Phase 3

By 18 March, all those who enter the country, both foreign and Vietnamese, need to be quarantined for 14 days. On 22 March, Viet Nam decided to suspend foreign entry

Viet Nam entered the third phase on 23 March as risks of community spread are high. The Ministry of Health predicted that the outbreak will reach its peak in April. 

In follow-up to this:

  • The Government implemented more drastic and robust measures, such as increasing online transactions, wearing of face masks in public and on public transport, and refraining from holding or participating in gatherings larger than 50 people – including funerals, weddings, and religious rituals. Entertainment venues were ordered temporarily closed. Law enforcement authorities were asked to be on high alert and strictly control those who enter the country via sea, waterway, road and air routes.
  • On 30 March, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to declare a nationwide pandemic, upon the recommendation of the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control. 
  • The Prime Minister issued a new directive placing the nation under limited lockdown on 31 March, effective 1 April. This enforced national isolation, banning gatherings and encouraging people to stay home. Borders were closed and quarantine policy was implemented. 


Viet Nam’s Approach Against COVID-19: Successful Low Cost Model

The Diplomat article highlighted that Viet Nam’s model for containing the outbreak is  a successful “low-cost model.” Along with common policy actions, such as contact tracing, ramping up production of medical supplies, and installing checkpoints at airports, Viet Nam’s success can be attributed to its proactiveness. 

The article further explains:

  • In restricting movements, Viet Nam did not hesitate, but balanced overt caution with precision. Between February to April, Viet Nam only recorded five large scale lockdowns. Lockdowns were localized and limited, guided by the Ministry of Health, and lifted once no new cases are reported within a recommended period of time. 
  • Viet Nam was quick to prescribe closure of schools. Schools were closed by 14 February, and has gradually adopted online teaching. 
  • Viet Nam successfully mobilized nationalism by framing the virus as a common foreign enemy and calling on the unity of the population to defeat it. 
  • The Government also positioned itself as an effective source of leadership during the pandemic by providing information with transparency. Initiatives by the Ministry of Health to launch a website and a mobile application eased the medical process and helped disseminate accurate information quickly. In addition, state media also constantly covered pandemic hotspots globally to raise public awareness about the seriousness of COVID-19 and to demonstrate the importance of robust government intervention. 

Prime Minister Phuc announced that Viet Nam will ease social distancing gradually on 20 April. On 22 April, the country lifted its social isolation measures with gatherings still limited and face masks still mandatory. Schools and businesses have reopened after the Reunification Day (30 April) and International Labor Day (1 May) Holidays.