Without fuss, Vietnamese make a song and dance over Covid-19

By Minh Nga   December 24, 2020 | 04:40 am PT
There's no telling how long the Covid-19 crisis will last, but the Vietnamese people have showcased their resilience by staying cool, being cool.

Even as the novel coronavirus wreaked unprecedented havoc as a pandemic, infecting and killing millions, people in Vietnam have managed to overcome resultant hardships with certain panache, dancing, painting and displaying compassion for others.

In fact, Vietnam lost no time in getting cool about its response to the Covid-19 outbreak, with the Health Ministry itself taking the lead.

In February, just weeks after the first infections were discovered, the ministry released the "Ghen Co Vy" song, calling on people to practice the recommended measures to reduce the risks of contracting the virus. It was a parody of a popular song composed by Khac Hung and performed by Min and Erik called "Ghen" (Jealousy).

"Ghen Co Vy," used "Co Vy" (Ms. Vy) a local nickname for the new coronavirus.

The dancers

Then a popular dancer, Quang Dang, choreographed moves to go with the lyrics that called on people to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, not to touch their eyes and mouths and limit going to crowded places.

The dance sparked a "Ghen CoVy Challenge" on Chinese platform TikTok, from where it quickly went viral and won high praise from the public for conveying an important message with such a catchy song and appealing dance moves.

In a "Last Week Tonight" episode on March 2, English-American comedian and writer John Oliver spoke about the song and dance trend, calling it "incredible."

"Vietnam made a song about washing your hands to prevent coronavirus infection and it absolutely slaps! That’s a genuine club banger right there!" he remarked and danced along Dang’s moves.

An animated, catchy coronavirus jingle serving as a public service announcement (PSA) has become an international hit and a TikTok dance challenge. Video by VnExpress/Thanh Huyen, Dang Khoa.

Unicef promoted Quang Dang's dance video on Facebook on March 4, writing: "We love this hand washing dance from Vietnamese dancer, Quang Dang. Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the first steps to protect yourself from #coronavirus."

The dancer said he had spent 15 minutes choreographing the moves. He said he had no hesitation saying yes when the ministry invited him to choreograph the song, believing it would be the easiest and quickest way to send the important message on preventing infections.

The dance move then took the internet in and outside Vietnam by storm. Vietnamese from all walks of life, including farmers in the Mekong Delta to doctors and firefighters, posted videos of them dancing to the song with Dang's moves. On TikTok, the dance challenge became a mega hit that attracted not just users in Vietnam, but in many other countries.

The painters

When her school remained closed over Covid-19 from February to May, Hanoi’s Nguyen Doi Chung Anh drew 11 paintings depicting how the world was coping with the pandemic.

Nguyen Doi Chung Anh by her paintings, June 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang

Nguyen Doi Chung Anh by her paintings, June 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Hang.

The 10-year-old often watched the news on TV during meals and before bed, and the pandemic had taken center stage. "I was worried seeing how dangerous the virus was. So I decided to draw."

All her works begin with rough pencil drafts. Her first paintings depicted what happened in countries that were first hit by the virus: China, Japan and Vietnam. She also drew Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who was among the first to warn about the deadly virus but was reprimanded for it and was eventually killed by the virus.

As news outlets started to cover the pandemic with greater frequency, Anh observed it all and put it on paper, including the cruise ship Diamond Princess which got stuck in a Japanese port with more than 700 infections and the flight that brought back Hanoi's first Covid-19 patient from the U.K.

She also drew herself in one painting, named "Me being safe amid the pandemic."

In April, artist Le Duc Hiep in HCMC drew attention from not only the Vietnamese public, but also international media including the Guardian and Nikkei Asia, for making a propaganda style poster of masked medics holding hands as valiant soldiers in the fight against the pandemic under the slogan "to stay at home is to love your country."

Hiep, 34, said he was bothered to see people still gathering and going out to coffee shops and restaurants when the government had told them to stay at home. The first night he posted it on Facebook, it got 200 shares and in one month, 8,800 had shared it.

The poster drawn by Le Duc Hiep says: to stay at home is to love your country. Photo courtesy of Le Duc Hiep.

The poster drawn by Le Duc Hiep says: "to stay at home is to love your country." Photo courtesy of Le Duc Hiep.

"Our country doesn't ask you to go to the battlefield -- just stay at home," Hiep wrote in a post. He also said he had chosen the propaganda style poster because the Vietnamese people are familiar with it and it always invokes patriotic emotions.

The inventors

In February, a group of five Vietnamese engineers created an interactive global map of the coronavirus epidemic that uses AI to thwart misinformation.

The corona.kompa.ai map lists the official number cases in Vietnam and provides information about it from trustworthy sources. The first version thus focused on three key features – a global infection map, a Vietnam infection map and news from reliable sources. Now it remains with just the infection map in Vietnam. The website uses machine learning to automatically update and clarify official news.

Then in April, Vietnam approved a tracing app developed by local technology firm Bkav called Bluezone, a Bluetooth-based app that helps determine if a person has come into contact with a Covid-19 patient.

The app uses Bluetooth Low Energy, a wireless personal area network technology, to link with smartphones within a two-meter distance. It will notify its users if they’d come within two meters of a Covid-19 patient in the past 14 days. When there is a new case of Covid-19, health authorities will enter the patient's information into a system that will send that data to smartphones installed with Bluezone to track the patient’s history in the previous 14 days.

The innovators

In the early stages of the pandemic, when coronavirus fears sent demand for hand sanitizers spiraling upwards and producers were unable to meet it, teachers and students at several universities in different parts of the country jumped in, making the most of their schools' laboratories to produce the product from distilled water and medical alcohol, and gave it away to those who needed it.

In April when Vietnam started applying social distancing measures nationwide, businessman Hoang Tuan Anh of HCMC created an automatic machine rice vending machine to help those hit hard by the pandemic.

The first machine was installed on a street in Tan Phu District and two others were put up later in District 12 and Binh Chanh. At the touch of a button on the rice ATM, poor people could get 1.5 kilograms of rice 24/7, with three employees working shifts to monitor the system via remote cameras.

Before long, similar machines sprouted in Hanoi and other regions across the country. Many benefactors then donated rice for these machines to keep running.

In August, Anh then moved on to make a similar dispensing machine to give away free masks. This concept was then also copied in Hanoi.

The man behind Saigon’s "rice ATMs" has now set up a "face mask ATM" that dispenses around 20,000 free masks a day. Video by VnExpress/ Cong Khang, Diep Nguyen.

The caterers

Also during the social distancing period, Nguyen Tuan Khoi, who runs a food enterprise, opened an eatery to provide free meals for the poor in HCMC.

The pandemic had severely affected Khoi's business by then but when he saw poor workers exhausted by unemployment and no income, he decided to find ways to support them.

Nguyen Tuan Khoi, L, and other volunteers at

Nguyen Tuan Khoi (L) and other volunteers at a kitchen in a temporarily closed kitchens prepare free lunch for the poor, April 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

When he set out on his project, the 36-year-old was able to get food and volunteers but had no place to cook and distribute the meals. When the city ordered restaurants and non-essential services to close, he thought of taking advantage of kitchens in temporarily closed restaurants.

The connectors

As soon as seeing that the pandemic had caused financial problems for the community, Nguyen Binh Nam, 41, an electrical engineer in central Da Nang City, stood up to help. He brought together donors and volunteers to help those who needed it the most.

In April, his crew implemented two initiatives – providing free meals and rice to locals. In late July, when Covid-19 community transmission resurfaced with the central city as its epicenter, Nam used donations totaling VND500 million ($21,669) to buy protective clothing, masks and medical gear for hospitals in Da Nang and neighboring Quang Nam Province.

Then he turned his attention to local residents who needed help. In all, VND400 million was collected and given to support 600 poverty stricken families. Nam explained he wanted to avoid gathering and crowds, so his team members went door to door, instead.

Covered in a protective suit, a volunteer of Nams group hands over a bag of rice to a woman at her house in Da Nang City, August 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Covered in a protective suit, a volunteer of Nam's group hands over a bag of rice to a woman at her house in Da Nang City, August 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

He managed to pool together 50 volunteers, including business people, soldiers, university lecturers, engineers. When more heads were needed, Nam called on other volunteer groups in the city to join forces.

Aside from these individuals, many benefactors stepped up to help, especially in the major cities of Hanoi and HCMC. Working anonymously, they stockpiled packages of food and essential products in public places so that anyone facing financial problems could just stop by and pick one or more for their families.

The volunteers

During the two major coronavirus outbreaks in the country, hundreds of nurses and junior students of medical schools had signed themselves up to be part of the frontline forces, being well aware of the risk of getting infected.

In March, a group of 14 students at the Hanoi University of Public Health signed themselves up for a mission to track passengers on flights carrying Covid-19 infected passengers based on information provided by airlines. They signed up in response to a call from the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control.

Volunteer students pose with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (middle). Photo courtesy of Dinh Thu Trang.

Volunteer students pose with Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (middle). Photo courtesy of Dinh Thu Trang.

The group had to contact passengers on multiple flights, each carrying around 200-300 people. A simple case took seven minutes, including calling and explaining the situation to the passenger before reporting the status to the local health agency. On one March morning, the team were able to contact passengers on 11 out of 25 flights while others were able to contact 85-90 percent of passengers on another 14 flights.

In August, when Da Nang was the epicenter of the second wave, members of the Pickup Da Nang Club (PDC) volunteered to pick up and transport crucial supplies including Covid-19 test kits from the Da Nang Airport to local hospitals in the city. Every day, around 10 pickup trucks in the club transported goods for free. On average, each vehicle made 7-10 trips per day.

With a population of 95 million, Vietnam has registered less than 1,500 cases of Covid-19 to date. Of these cases, more than half were imported. All the arriving passengers were quarantined on arrival. The Covid-19 death toll in Vietnam has remained at 35.

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