By Ms. Ngô Thị Hòa – Former Ambassador of Vietnam to the Netherlands.
I completed my term as Ambassador in the Netherlands towards the end of March and was on my way back home to Vietnam. As it was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I struggled to find flights as many airlines were cancelling them and country borders were being closed. It wasn’t until the third try that I managed to book a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Vân Đồn, Vietnam.
The challenges of travelling during this time were already further indications of the grave situation the world is in, especially since internationally travel is usually easy these days. Needless to say I was aware of this pressing issue having paid attention to the news, but it didn’t fully hit me until I flew back to Vietnam and was quarantined for 2 weeks.
When I got on my Vietnam Airlines flight, I immediately felt the heat of this battle against COVID-19. All passengers were required to wear face masks, gloves and have their temperatures checked before boarding. We were each sat distant from each other, with each 3-seat row only occupied by 1 passenger to minimize contact. We were also given some disinfectant spray in addition.
I had never been on a flight like this and I was a bit nervous to see everyone act so cautiously as it was a reminder of how dangerous the disease can be.
Nevertheless, I was still more reassured than worried; I really appreciated how much the national airline was doing to ensure health and safety for everyone on board. After landing in Vân Đồn, all the passengers went through a very quick immigration process and were guided to government-run quarantine facilities.
As a diplomat, I actually had the option to be quarantined at home, but I thought it was important to fulfill my responsibility as a citizen and be there instead, where they can carefully monitor my health status. In addition, a small part of me was curious about Vietnam’s quarantine methods and facilities.
Some passengers and I were arranged to stay at a 4-star hotel in Hạ Long Bay for our 14-day quarantine period, during which we had to follow some rather tight rules and procedures. We had to stay in our hotel rooms throughout the entire duration and avoid contact with others. This meant that I couldn’t leave to buy anything or eat out, which was why my 3 meals were brought to my room everyday by the staff.
They knew eating set meals everyday would quickly become dull and that I may need extra items, so they offered to buy anything else I requested, such as extra snacks or toiletries. I would also get daily temperature checks so my health status can be monitored; those with symptoms of COVID-19 (a fever, dry cough etc.) would immediately be transferred to hospitals for treatment.
After 2 weeks of quarantine, I was officially tested negative for the disease and was allowed to go home. On my 250km journey back to the capital Hanoi, there were many checkup stations where I had to present papers showing I have completed the mandatory quarantine period. It became very clear to me that the government was and is taking many careful measures to minimize COVID-19 cases.
Vietnam was under lockdown during this time so the streets were practically empty; all restaurants and most stores were closed and people were restricted from leaving their homes.
After 3 years I returned to a Hanoi that I didn’t recognize; the usual hustle and bustle in the streets, the familiar street food stands and popular eateries were all gone. The only time one would see such a quiet and empty Hanoi is during our Tết New Years, but this was the furthest thing from a celebration.
Nevertheless, it must be done to tackle the outbreak and has shown to be effective in containing the spread of COVID-19. Despite being a neighbor of China where the virus first emerged, the majority of infected cases in Vietnam have been cured; specifically 222 out of 270 confirmed cases have been successfully treated, and there have been 0 deaths.
In response to this positive direction, the lockdown is slowly being loosened. This is a major indication of the country’s success in battling the epidemic.
One might wonder how Vietnam has achieved this in its fight against COVID-19 thus far. Some of the measures the Vietnamese government has taken in response to the outbreak include:
1) Raising public awareness of the risks and effects of COVID-19
2) Tracing down the origins of infections and identifying disease clusters.
Medical personnel in Vietnam trace back the steps of all COVID-19 patients to identify places they have travelled to, people they have come in contact with and possibly from who and where did they catch the disease. With this information they will check up on close contacts, test them and advise them to be in quarantine. The locations patients have been in will be released to the public so people can try to protect themselves and others. It is Vietnam’s extensive method to prevent new cases.
3) Put in place an extended period of lockdown nationwide to prevent further spread of the disease.
Leaving the house is limited and people should only do so when absolutely necessary, such as buying groceries.
4) Launch information campaigns to bring the nation together in an effort to fight the epidemic.
This includes many means of communication, such as the traditional forms of news broadcasting. Vietnam’s healthy ministry even took a creative turn by collaborating with musicians to create a song about COVID-19 prevention. It definitely caught the attention of the public as the song went viral and gathered millions of views.
5) Advise change of daily habits and routines to adapt to the current situation:
Many Vietnamese are encouraged to work online to reduce their time at the office and people are switching to online shopping instead of going to stores.
It is a difficult time in which not everyone can easily adapt to this change, which is why the government is also taking the initiative to support those heavily affected by the epidemic and lockdown. This includes issuing economic incentives, such as extending deadlines for tax payments.
It is no surprise that these methods have been implemented by many countries and some of which are considered to be very common approaches. However, I think it is important to emphasize how effective these tactics can be no matter how standard and conventional it may seem. I hope this is somehow helpful to countries worldwide fighting against COVID-19; only together can we tackle this disease and overcome the pandemic.