Health workers wearing protective suits collect blood samples at a makeshift rapid testing center in Hanoi on July 31, 2020. Photo: AFP / Manan Vatsyayana

Given Vietnam’s increasing number of deaths since the most recent wave of Covid-19, there is a huge concern over whether the country can handle this new wave well as it did with the previous two. In fact, the new deaths are having a galvanizing effect on both the government and the people, which, to some extent, increases Vietnam’s momentum for the battle against the virus.

Massive resource mobilization

At first glance, Vietnam has been mobilizing almost all resources to counter the pandemic. The recent rise in fatalities implies that this wave will be more devastating, requiring more resources and efforts to contain.

Because of its limited resources, Vietnam has to maintain close coordination among different levels of authorities to allocate the necessary resources for the battle in the most optimal way.

Indeed, immediately after the 416th case was reported, the central and local governments responded quickly and forcefully. The central government ordered the evacuation of 80,000 people from Danang, the pandemic’s epicenter in Vietnam. Also, all those arriving in other parts of the country from Danang must isolate themselves at their residence for 14 days. Besides, it has utilized the media to made information on the pandemic situation, even the new deaths, highly transparent.

Local governments and ministries have been making efforts to coordinate with the central government in mobilizing resources to deal with the crisis. The Ministry of Health has coordinated with local authorities to conduct RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) testing, a highly reliable method. At least 1 million tests have been conducted since January, a high number considering Vietnam’s health-care budget.

In Hanoi, the local government has completed RT-PCR testing for 80,000 people returning from Danang, and will conduct further testing to contain the virus. As for Danang itself, it has conducted large-scale sterilization to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and tightened movement controls. Notably, it has set up a 500-bed field hospital to receive Covid-19 patients and share the burden with the city’s main hospitals.

This massive mobilization has shown Vietnam’s grave concern over new deaths and its strong determination to handle this new wave.

Rising anxiety

The new deaths have caused deep anxiety among the population. Vietnam handled the previous two waves well and eased the national lockdown sooner that most Southeast Asian countries without fatalities. This might have led people to think Vietnam was immune to Covid-19.

However, the most recent deaths from the pandemic, including of young patients, and the higher infectivity, send a clear message to people: This current wave is more dangerous and difficult to control than the previous ones. Therefore, to help slow the spread of the virus, they must adhere to the regulations as they did during the last lockdown.

In general, people in places that are vulnerable to the pandemic have been strictly following the government’s guidelines and regulations. Since Directive 16 banning the gathering of more than two people in public places took effect, Danang people have strictly followed the “social distancing” practice in accordance with the directive, working from home and washing hands regularly.

Remarkably, one family in Hoi An town could not sign their patriarch’s death certificate, since all of them either had Covid-19 or were in quarantine. This reflects people’s strict compliance with government quarantine measures.

In Hanoi, people returning from Danang rush to get tested, voluntarily report their health situation and follow the mandatory quarantine. Also noteworthy, the contact-tracing mobile app jointly developed by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Information and Communication, Bluezone, has reached more 10 millions users so far thanks to users’ sharing.

For the sake of public health, the government is considering making it compulsory for smartphone users to install Bluezone, and many people are in favor of this.

All these actions showcase Vietnam’s strong community awareness of self-protection against the virus, which is rarely seen in countries that are suffering tremendously from the pandemic.

Additionally, Vietnamese people have been standing together with the government to support cities and provinces suffering from the crisis. The government has aptly used a war narrative for propaganda in the Covid-19 campaign. Thanks to this, people are supporting the government wholeheartedly to mitigate the consequences.

In fact, businesses, agencies and unions have successfully called for sending food and necessary equipment to isolated places to assist doctors and staff at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19.

Vingroup, the largest Vietnamese conglomerate, has provided 1,700 ventilators to the Ministry of Health and donated enough chemicals for 56,000 Covid-19 PCR tests for the three provinces of Danang, Haiphong and Bac Ninh. Moreover, it also sent health workers to Danang to help the city combat the virus.

Vinamilk, coordinating with the Ministry of Health, has sent more than 170,000 nutritional products to isolated areas in three provinces – Danang, Quang Nam and Quang Ngai – and donated money to support hospitals and medical centers amid the pandemic.

Such largesse illustrates a “united front” of Vietnamese people against the Covid-19, paving the way to bringing it under control.

More rigorous border control

Next, following the national fear of the Covid-19’s return, the government has been implementing more stringent measures to control the border. The fact that Vietnam shares a border with China, where the outbreak was first reported, is a double-edged sword.

Thanks to its geographical proximity to China, Vietnam took measures earlier than most Southeast Asian countries. But this turns out to be an apparent risk for Vietnam now. Arguably, one of the main reasons for the Covid-19’s return in Danang is illegal immigration, mostly from China. In this respect, Vietnam has put more efforts into stopping this from happening.

Currently, with the worsening pandemic situation, the central authority is coordinating with local ones, especially border provinces, as well as with related agencies, most importantly the military and police, to crack down on illegal immigration from China. Recently, Danang launched a mass inspection of foreigners staying in the city, with particular focus on Chinese.

Previously, Danang authorities arrested 24 Chinese citizens who had illegally entered Vietnam. The same has occurred in the north of Vietnam. On August 2, the Border Defense Guard in Cao Bang province arrested 17 Vietnamese illegal immigrants from China.

The surge in fatalities has prompted serious worries by both the government and the people about dealing with the re-emergence of Covid-19. The rising deaths show that this time, the pandemic could cause more dreadful consequences for Vietnam.

Notwithstanding this, the recent deaths could be a catalyst for the country to re-launch the campaign against the virus. With better preparedness and synergy between the people and the government, Vietnam could contain the virus soon.  


Phuong Pham

Phuong Pham is a doctoral student at the Department of Political Science, Duke University