The COVID-19 pandemic has raged around the globe in just a short period of time. In just over four months, this disease has spread to 211 countries and territories. Facing the terrible threat of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, many countries have shut their borders, suspended air routes, declared a state of emergency, or placed their entire territories on lockdown.
As of the morning of April 20, more than 2.4 million infection cases were recorded worldwide, including 165,059 deaths. The US confirmed its first infection on January 21. The number of infected cases surpassed 764,000 as of April 20, with over 40,000 fatalities.
Vietnam also recorded the first case of COVID-19 at the same time as the US, on January 22. Three months later, the number of coronavirus patients now stands at 268, and there haven’t been any related deaths. The country hasn’t seen a single new infection over the last four days.
To explain why Vietnam can stand firm amidst the pandemic, which is battering many countries, including superpowers with the strongest economies as well as healthcare systems, Permanent Deputy Minister of Health Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long has given an interview to VietnamPlus about Vietnam’s “tactics” in the face of COVID-19.
- The number of new COVID-19 cases in Vietnam has decreased very rapidly recently. Notably, there haven’t been new infections for four straight days. What do you think about this?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: The recent decline in the number of COVID-19 infections is an encouraging sign, but it is still too early to feel secure as the downward trend has appeared in just more than 10 days while the incubation period is 14 days, or even more in some special cases. Additionally, we have also found several cases in the community with unclear transmission sources.
Vietnam is still keeping good control over the outbreak thanks to the radical implementation of quarantine, management of people coming from abroad, tracking down of second and third-hand contracts, and social distancing practice.
When the number of new cases falls, we must not be complacent but push ahead with drastic measures, especially as we consider re-opening borders.
- When COVID-19 broke out in China, Vietnam was assessed as a high-risk country as it shares up to 1,435km of borderline with China. However, the infection tally in Vietnam so far is equivalent to only a fraction of many countries’. According to you, what has made that “miracle”?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: Facing the pandemic’s complex developments and danger and the risk of a large-scale outbreak in Vietnam, the Government, ministries, sectors, localities and the whole society have taken strong actions under the ethos: “fighting the pandemic is like fighting an enemy”, and staying proactive and ready to carry out anti-COVID-19 measures at the highest level.
In just a short period of time, the Government has issued a series of important directions that play a crucial role in the combat against the coronavirus. The Permanent Member of the Party Central Committee’s Secretariat has also demanded all-level Party committees, Party organisations, administrations, Vietnam Fatherland Front committees and people’s organisations seriously implement the Prime Minister’s directives on COVID-19 prevention and control.
The “fighting the pandemic is like fighting an enemy” spirit has been reflected in the implementation of drastic measures from central to local levels, along with the constant communications to raise public awareness and encourage people’s unanimity, support and participation in the disease combat of the whole country.
At local levels, steering committees for COVID-19 prevention and control were set up and led by the chairpersons of provincial People’s Committees so as to maximise resources for the task.
It can be said that until now, Vietnam has made an appropriate response to the pandemic with the synchronous deployment of specialised and administrative solutions to closely follow the outbreak’s developments. This is also a difference from other countries as Vietnam is the only country that has applied health declaration at ports of entry, the first to issue guidance on and carry out quarantine all at home, accommodation facilities and quarantine centres, and the second after China to zone and seal off affected areas to wipe out COVID-19.
- Vietnam can be considered a bright spot in the fight against COVID-19. In 2003, we were also the first country in the world to successfully contain the SARS outbreak. In this COVID-19 combat, what is the biggest difference between Vietnam and other countries?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: Since the onset of the outbreak, we have proactively applied administrative solutions at the highest level. This is the biggest difference between Vietnam and other countries.
While other countries, in the initial phase, mainly focused on specialised and medical solutions, scientific studies and technological application, Vietnam had harmoniously combined administrative and specialised solutions to synchronously implement disease containment measures from central to local levels, and by all ministries, sectors, organisaitons and the entire society.
The presence of representatives from different ministries and sectors in the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control has created conditions to achieve high consensus on the anti-pandemic measures that affect security, economic, social and diplomatic affairs without spending much time on discussion.
Persistence in “five golden principles”
- International organisations and foreign media have continually applauded Vietnam’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 with five persistent principles. Could you give more details about these five principles?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: So far, Vietnam has controlled the outbreak well. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also recognised that we have dealt with COVID-19 very well.
The National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control is unanimous in the persistence of the five principles carried out since the beginning of the pandemic, namely preventing, detecting, quarantining, zoning, and stamping out outbreaks.
This is a fixed strategy and it must be implemented drastically while we must not lower our guards or lack vigilance. The Ministry of Health has specified targets for each period so as to take appropriate response measures.
In the period that there haven’t been any cases, the target is preventing the appearance of infections and early detecting suspect cases. When infection cases begin to be recorded, the target is shifted to containing any hotbeds and preventing the disease from spreading to the community. If there is community transmission, the target is radically controlling hotbeds to prevent widespread transmission.
- Is the “four on-the-spots” principle also part of our strategy?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: The “four on-the-spots” principle plays a crucial role in the disease combat, namely on-the-spot direction, on-the-spot forces, on-the-spot resources, and on-the-spot logistics. This aims to maximise existing resources and minimise risks during the disease prevention and control process.
For example, in terms of zoning affected areas, affected areas will be sealed off at the same scale that the outbreak happens. In Son Loi commune (Binh Xuyen district, Vinh Phuc province), as the disease occurred at the communal level, the entire commune, not a larger area, was sealed off. Then, quarantine was organised strictly, concentrated or home quarantine, to prevent virus transmission.
Vietnam has focused on monitoring early detect infections to provide treatment right on the spot, conducting screening tests, organising health quarantine according to levels, and providing treatment in the entire health system to prevent patient concentration at central hospitals. The country has successfully cured COVID-19 patients even at district-level clinics and not let too many patients concentrate in one place.
- International media has commented that Vietnam has become a “model” in the COVID-19 fight. Is the country ready to share those “secrets” of success?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: Although disease prevention and control are always stressful and strenuous, Vietnam has always maintained international cooperation via teleconferenced bilateral and multilateral discussions, talks and meetings.
Those meetings and discussions have helped us learn the world’s experiences and models, and we are also ready to share experiences in disease prevention and control with other countries and territories.
People unanimously fight against the “COVID-19 enemy”
- Looking back on the three months of combating against COVID-19, what do you think about Vietnam’s performance in the coronavirus prevention and control?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: General speaking, Vietnam has gained initial success in curbing the COVID-19 outbreak. The biggest advantage helping us obtain this success is the strong engagement of the whole political system and the entire people with the spirit of fighting against the pandemic is like fighting an enemy.
Particularly, people’s support has a huge role to play. This can be seen in people’s complete trust in and serious implementation of solutions, requirements and guidelines of the Government, the National Steering Committee and the Ministry of Health.
Since the initial phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, Vietnam has proactively applied solutions sooner and at a higher level than WHO recommendations. It is the first country in the world to impose compulsory health declaration on those coming from China since January 25 and on all people from abroad since March 7. Vietnam is also among the few countries deciding to suspend visa exemption, restrict entry and put people coming from or travelling through pandemic-hit areas, then all people coming from abroad, in concentrated quarantine sites.
The abovementioned measures have been implemented strongly and thoroughly, helping Vietnam’s COVID-19 prevention and control efforts prove fruitful, especially in preventing the virus transmission caused by imported cases.
Facing the risk of an increase in the number of cases related to big clusters and those with unclear infection sources in the community, the Prime Minister issued Directive 16/CT-TTg on March 31, ordering social distancing nationwide to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the community.
This measure has been applied in many countries, and in fact, Directive 16/CT-TTg has been carried out relatively well so far.
- Vietnam is among the few countries with more than 200 infection cases and no related deaths. What is the reason for this result?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: Vietnam is one of the few countries and territories with more than 200 infections and no related deaths despite several severe cases.
To achieve this, the Ministry of Health has mobilised leading experts, issued strong directions, ensured all necessary equipment and supplied support systems for online consultations and check-ups so as to provide the best possible care and treatment for COVID-19 patients. Vietnam’s treatment regimens have also been constantly updated based on the experiences of the country and in the world.
Vietnam has also been directing research institutes to develop biological products to serve the diagnosis and early detection of infection cases so that it is not until patients are in critical condition that they are admitted to hospital.
However, with current developments of the pandemic, we still have to prioritise our efforts, wisdom, the best equipment and medicine for the most severe patients and constantly update information about these cases and the pandemic.
Safety adapting to pandemic
- What is the scenario that we may have to cope with in the future?
Prof. Nguyen Thanh Long: Vietnam believes the pandemic will linger on, as countries around the world are still recording growing numbers of infections and fatalities. Therefore, the disease prevention and control must also switch to a new stage. We will move towards safely adapting to the pandemic and promoting positive adjustments in society.
We have to keep persisting in the principles of preventing, detecting, quarantining, zoning, wiping out the disease, and actively treating patients. Disease prevention and control measures need to be carried out flexibly so as to boost development while staying safe.
To do that, ministries, sectors and localities need to proactively issue safety guidelines for their activities, from health, transport, production and education establishments to cultural and sports activities, on the basis of the Health Ministry’s guidelines.
We have been making positive adjustments in society, and the COVID-19 fight remains strenuous, but we will be successful.
- Thank you very much./.