By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times & Transcript
In Vietnam, a Communist regime has dominated its society for decades and remains important today. It has been put to the test as it faces the struggle against COVID-19. So how has the country fared?
Despite limited resources and geographical proximity to Wuhan, China where coronavirus first appeared, Vietnam’s low-cost model against COVID-19 has been a success with the number of infected staying low and community infection under control.
Vietnam has kept the total number of infections in the country of 96 million at around 2,500 as of March and reported just 35 deaths. It crushed a first wave of cases in February 2020, and a larger cluster that was detected among foreign tourists two months later.
The Lowy Institute published an index on Jan. 28 ranking 98 countries and their success in handling the coronavirus pandemic, Vietnam ranked second, behind New Zealand.
Vietnam’s first domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine, called Nanocovax, is expected to be available by the fourth quarter of this year and put into use in 2022. Four Vietnamese companies were engaged in vaccine research and production.
Vietnam’s economy has remained resilient, expanding by 2.9 per cent in 2020, one of the highest growth rates in the world, and growth is projected to be 6.5 per cent in 2021, thanks to strong economic fundamentals, decisive containment measures and well-targeted government support, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest survey of the country’s economy, released March 1.
The government’s pandemic prevention strategy fitted with Vietnamese society’s collectivist culture. Though this exerted constrains on people’s lives, they complied with its actions, the main reason for Vietnam’s success in coping with COVID-19.
Vietnam issued quick and decisive policy responses and it strictly applied health measures. It used mass media and grassroots management system to turn these into advantages to help the country fight COVID-19.
The nation mobilized the whole political system including the Communist Party, the government, the Fatherland Front and other social organizations. The slogan “Fighting the pandemic like fighting against invasive enemies” demonstrated Vietnam’s determination and priority on pandemic prevention.
This did involve intrusive surveillance. There are 2.8 million government officials and employees in the nation, accounting for about three per cent of Vietnam’s total population. They were thrown into the battle.
Grassroots committees were established, and each building and school had its own steering committee for COVID-19 prevention. The establishment of a network from the central to the grassroots level has helped the pandemic prevention activities be widely deployed.
In localized areas where the virus was detected, barricades were set up to prevent people from leaving their houses, while the grassroots management teams helped ensure people’s daily life by supporting their purchase of supplies and necessities. Health checks and monitoring were also conducted continuously to detect new cases in the affected locales.
Vietnam temporarily suspended entry by most foreigners and stopped operating international flight routes, only organizing flights to take Vietnamese home from countries where COVID-19 infections had become critical.
Mass media, which is strictly under political control, has played an important role in raising public awareness of the coronavirus. In Vietnam, there is no private ownership of broadcast outlets.
The national state-owned broadcasting television, Vietnam Television (VTV) is under the control of the two bodies: The Department of Radio, Television and Electronic Information, which regulates technical, legal and economic aspects of the broadcasting system, and the Central Propaganda and Education Commission, which works to ensure that “all media practitioners remain loyal to the Party’s propagandist agenda.”
Mass media in the country continuously delivered messages about the danger of COVID-19, and surveys showed that people accepted the credibility of the information.
The Ministry of Public Security also provided simple instructions for people to identify fake news on the internet that might be harmful to the country. Those evading medical declarations were not only punished by law but also subject to intense social condemnation.
The cooperation of the public was achieved through the application of what the government termed the “two weapons”: domestic mass media and the grassroots management system.
“When people trust the government, people do what the government says,” remarked Professor Guy Thwaites, director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit and Major Overseas Programme in Viet Nam.