Amid second wave of Covid-19, don’t forget the lessons from the first

By Tran Anh Tu   August 1, 2020 | 03:23 pm PT
Vietnamese have got valuable lessons from the first wave of Covid-19, but we have also showed certain weaknesses.
Tran Anh Tu

Tran Anh Tu

Last Friday night, when news spread that a person in Da Nang was infected with the novel coronavirus, I was in a supermarket.

Though not yet confirmed by the Ministry of Health, the news had a big impact on society. I again saw a long line of worried-looking people holding boxes of instant noodles, waiting to pay.

We can say that a new wave of Covid-19 has arrived after Vietnam succeeded in quelling the first, with no one dying and managing to go almost 100 days without local transmission.

But with the first positive case, optimism quickly gave way to the pessimism we knew too well at the peak of the previous wave.

A friend living overseas sent me a message asking me about Vietnam's success in suppressing Covid-19, a question that is very difficult to answer.

The website of Berlin borough Marzahn-hellersdorf published an article on Vietnam's successful epidemic fight that involved three key elements: early action, contact tracing and communication.

Prof Guy Thwaites, director of the Oxford University clinical research unit in Vietnam, said the country’s reaction speed was the main factor in the success.

I think there are five typical stories from the first wave, three to be repeated and the others not.

One of the stories in the first phase is the involvement of all agencies, in other words the involvement of all society.

The epidemic was seen as a national disaster and ‘fight the epidemic like invaders’ became the slogan of the campaign.

I have never seen a disease outbreak that caused the highest levels of government to act non-stop like this. There was a meeting at the government level every day, including by its standing committee and the National Steering Committee. Ministerial decisions to be applied at various localities were discussed and finalized immediately, and did not remain stuck in the bureaucratic system.

The next story was the public support.

A friend told me that in his neighborhood many people volunteered to keep an eye on those who had to be isolated at home. A young man, bored out of his mind after a few days of isolation at home, was about to sneak out when he ran into some neighbors drinking tea in front of their home.

"Go back in, please," an army veteran smoking a long bamboo pipe told the man in a stern voice.

We saw neighborhood officials assign staff to shop for families quarantined at home. Whatever people wanted to eat or buy they would message the officials, and food and utensils would be brought to their door.

Every commune, ward, apartment building became a frontline in the battle. Unions and local residential associations set up "checkpoints". At my apartment complex for instance everyone entering was recorded. If a stranger showed up, they had to show their ID and introduce themselves. During the national social distancing campaign in April, it was impossible for strangers to even get into our elevator.

In many rural areas, right from the beginning villages and communes had decreed that no one could come in or go out. So when a friend wanted to receive items from the countryside, they had to pass through three checkpoints: at the village gate, at the province entrance, and at the recipient's neighborhood in Hanoi.

Public support was also manifest in the fact that the Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee received around VND2 trillion ($85.7 million) in donations for the Covid-19 fight.

A police officer in Quang Nam Province checks the body temperature ofa woman arriving from Da Nang, July 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

A police officer in Quang Nam Province checks the body temperature of a woman arriving from Da Nang, July 29, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

Another story was people’s self-awareness. During the epidemic, especially when social distancing was in place, most people complied and did not leave their home.

Stay at home, wear masks, wash hands often, avoid gatherings become the repeated mantra during the campaign and the epidemic in general.

I myself did not step out of my apartment though my press card could have got me around.

A friend of mine also bought boxes of medical masks to distribute to colleagues and neighbors. Anyone entering his office without a mask would be given one before business could begin.

But there were also things we did not do well and should strive not to repeat.

The first was fake news. Soon after the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed people began to spread false information about the number of positive cases and streets being locked down because of suspected cases on personal accounts. There were even Facebook posts about Covid-19 deaths and the government censoring news about the epidemic.

Such false news affected everyone. News about outbreaks and scarcity of goods caused many Hanoians to rush to supermarkets to buy up instant noodles on March 7, when the city's first infection was recorded.

The second thing to be avoided is the complacency that everyone is guilty of. Two weaknesses that are almost Vietnamese "brands" are forgetfulness and complacency.

The first wave has barely passed but many people have already forgotten how to prevent it. Beer places are crowded again and passengers are arguing with flight attendants about putting on a mask on a plane.

My friend could not find a mask to buy the other night. He had told his wife to throw away all their masks since there were no local infections for days. Following a frantic search after the virus resurfaced, he found some but was gouged by the shop.

So, even after the second wave ends, we should not let down our guard.

For, every citizen is an epidemic fighter at not only the family and community levels but also national level.

*Tran Anh Tu is a journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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