Calm down. There's no need for a lockdown

May 13, 2021 | 09:51 am GMT+7
Tran Van Phuc Doctor
Should Hanoi and other localities lock themselves down or ramp up social distancing measures as new Covid-19 cases keep popping up?

I did some research to find an answer to that question. After filtering through endless scientific papers and looking at what other countries have done, I realized there were some key common points: keep people home, shut down workplaces, schools and public transport, and suspend non-essential activities like entertainment and sporting events.

But naturally they come with a cost. Certain nations that have opted for lockdowns and social distancing have had to do so for extended periods.

It's not only harmful to the economy, but people's quality of life and mental health as well.

And, the world has only known Covid-19 for over a year. There will be many more coronavirus waves ahead of us, each one coming on stronger than the last.

But extended lockdowns mean people start to lose access to diverse and affordable food sources, while farmers have to discard expired products.

There will be unemployment and rising debts, plunging those most vulnerable into poverty.

The coronavirus is a wicked one, but it has patterns in its behavior.

It mainly attacks indoors, creating hotspots that could kick-start chains of transmission. But that also means it is much less likely to spread to someone outdoors.

We can look at Vietnam's current situation as a case study. So far all epicenters have been in indoor locations like quarantine areas, bars, hotels, airports, hospitals, and karaoke parlors.

Thousands of people gathered in beaches for the four-day Reunification Day holiday, and no similar spread has been detected.

The same conclusion could be drawn around the world as well: many of the most severe outbreaks have started in indoor locations like factories, cruise ships, churches, and nursing homes.

Scientists have also stated that the virus thrives in cold and dry enclosed places with little air circulation.

The wind helps dissipate it, while heat and UV rays from the sun make short work of it as well.

That however does not mean it is impossible to get infected outdoors, only exceedingly rare. Wearing a mask and keeping a distance are still the simplest ways to stay safe.

Citizens stay two meters apart from each other while lining up to receive rice in Hanoi as a coronavirus prevention measure, April 14, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Citizens stay two meters apart from each other while lining up to receive donated rice in Hanoi on April 14, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

But what I want to say is that the coronavirus is no longer a threat we cannot comprehend.

When the pandemic first broke, lockdowns and social distancing were widely regarded as the best measures to curb the disease's spread because they were the only ones we know.

But we have learned lessons along the way. We now know how the virus spreads, how it kills and what we can do to put a stop to it.

That is why several countries have now been moving away from mass lockdowns. Instead, they focus on cutting the chain of transmission and mitigating factors that could help the virus thrive.

They do all that while keeping societies functioning as much as they can.

I believe Vietnam is on the right track as well. Aggressive contact tracing, quick isolation and mass testing seem to be doing their job. I do not think there is need for another social distancing period like last year, at least not at the moment.

Just keep those bars and karaoke parlors closed and encourage people to stay home and not go out unnecessarily, and that should be enough for now.

There is a general election coming up later this month. Online voting is an option, but I think that might be too costly for Vietnam right now.

So we could just vote in the traditional way, but outdoors instead with people still wearing masks and staying two meters from each other. That should be a much better alternative, I believe.

Lockdowns do work, but they should only be a last resort. Vietnam does not need one right now.

*Tran Van Phuc is a doctor at St. Paul Hospital in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

 
 
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