Be brave, discard zero Covid mindset: experts

By Son Ha, Viet Tuan   February 8, 2022 | 06:00 am PT
Be brave, discard zero Covid mindset: experts
People have fun in the southern beach town Vung Tau during the Tet holiday, February 4, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Truong Ha
Vietnam has to be careful but brave in reopening and resuming economic activity this year and not let the "zero Covid" mindset linger for too long, experts say.

Nguyen Si Dung, former deputy head of the National Assembly Office, said a post Covid recovery process should be initiated with "ideological agreement and careful preparation in multiple aspects."

The first thing that needs to be done is to "bravely" reopen without waiting until the coronavirus problem is completely gone, he said, adding that the "zero Covid" mindset has been forcing people into certain thinking patterns and behaviors.

He cited for example the requirement that people had to be tested and quarantined upon going back home for Tet, which goes against current regulations.

Dung said fighting the coronavirus requires application of data and statistics in order to craft appropriate responses. An important data point is vaccination coverage, he said.

As of Tuesday, 74.4 million people in Vietnam have received their second vaccine shots, and 29.7 million their third.

"With such a high vaccination coverage, we need to pay more attention to the number of deaths and severe cases to find effective solutions, not rely on the number of daily infections," said Dung, adding that as the number of infections becomes less pertinent, it would not pay to assess Covid-19 risk on such data. Doing so would only hurt the economy, he stressed.

Managing those who are more vulnerable to Covid-19 and those who are unvaccinated should be a priority, he said.

"We should not assess Covid-19 risks and divide areas into those with high and low risks, then apply such standards to every member of the population, including the healthy ones."

If the Covid-19 death rate isn't too high compared to other diseases, extreme reactions towards it are irrational. As time passes, people will be able to treat Covid-19 as an endemic, seasonal disease. Such an approach has helped several countries to reopen much earlier, and Vietnam can follow suit, he said.

"The experience from 'reopened' countries is that they have consistent policies on Covid-19 vaccination."

People need to be fully vaccinated to join social activities, not just as a way to protect themselves but also to protect their community, Dung said.

The coronavirus frontline should also be gradually shifted from authorities to the people, he said. Instead of making people go into centralized quarantine, they should be allowed to self-isolate and be treated at home under supervision by health workers.

Using information technology in the coronavirus fight should be a priority in reopening, which would make it easier to manage risks and avoid unnecessary procedures, he added.

In the short term, reopening should focus on production and business activities, before moving to sectors like entertainment, hospitality, food and beverage and education.

"Reopening means we must learn to accept the risks. If a student is infected, for example, that student could stay home while the rest of the class continues to study," Dung said.

Accept risks

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center under the Ministry of Health, also said abandoning "zero Covid" means accepting the risk that there will be community cases.

"However, we cannot simply let everything go. All social, cultural and public activities... will need to abide by basic coronavirus prevention measures and ensure social distancing to limit infection risks," he said.

Those with coronavirus infection risks need to take measures to prevent any infection from spreading to other family members, especially elderly people and those with underlying conditions as they are much more likely to have severe Covid-19.

Do Van Dung from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in HCMC said reopening was necessary, but some localities have yet to fully vaccinate their adult populations, or have not had enough time to build local immunity.

These areas should continue telling people to follow coronavirus prevention measures and avoid large gatherings to prevent outbreaks, he added.

Before all adults receive their third Covid-19 shots, people should refrain from non-essential large gatherings, he said.

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