Bangkok With patient 416, the virus, which had already been defeated, returned to Vietnam. The 57-year-old tested positive for Covid-19 several times over the weekend in the coastal metropolis Danang. This marked the end of a unique series of successes in the Southeast Asian country: 99 days in a row, the health authorities did not find a single local infection.
Strict quarantine requirements for Vietnamese returning from abroad should prevent the corona virus from spreading again. But that’s exactly what happened now. By Thursday, more than 40 other people had tested positive. Now the country is puzzled over how it came about. What is certain is that the new infection will initially end the return to normal for the Vietnamese.
In view of the successful virus containment, bars, restaurants and schools were able to open again without restrictions. Domestic tourism was slowly picking up speed. But the new wave of contagion now means a massive setback: the country is returning to a partial lockdown. The hope of strong economic growth in the midst of the pandemic threatens to evaporate.
Combating pandemics according to textbook
For observers abroad, the development in Vietnam is interesting in several ways: It shows how difficult it is to stop the pandemic despite the strictest entry controls. At the same time, the example of Vietnam will show whether textbook pandemic control works twice in succession.
In retrospect, Vietnam has done just about everything correctly when dealing with the corona virus. The authorities took the new disease very seriously right from the start: Already in January, they prohibited flights from the Chinese province of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected. All schools were closed in February. Vietnam was the first country outside of China to seal off entire villages in which individual cases had occurred – and to systematically test all known contact persons for the virus.
In March, the government in Hanoi banned foreigners from entering the country. Vietnamese citizens must return to a state quarantine facility for 14 days after return flights from abroad. With these strict requirements, Vietnam managed to limit the number of confirmed infections to a few hundred. The state, with a population of 100 million, is also the largest country in the world, which according to official statistics does not have a single Covid 19 death.
Government is combative
But somewhere the system has apparently failed. Vietnam’s authorities and health experts don’t believe the virus could go undetected for months. Instead, they assume that it was imported from abroad despite the strict controls.
Vietnam’s state media has repeatedly reported on smuggling rings that the Chinese had illegally brought into the country. It also seems possible that quarantine requirements could have been violated.
The authorities are now trying to keep the damage as low as possible with their old recipe for success. Danang, where the first new case occurred, was cut off from air and rail traffic. Beaches there are now closed and large crowds are prohibited. In the capital Hanoi and in the South Vietnamese metropolis Ho Chi Minh City, bars and night clubs are no longer allowed to open.
Should further restrictions on public life become necessary, Vietnam’s ambitious growth targets for this year could be jeopardized. Government advisors most recently anticipated gross domestic product growth of up to four percent this year – while other countries in the region are suffering from a massive slump in economic output.
“The country owes the relative strength of Vietnam’s growth momentum to its success in containing the pandemic,” commented the rating agency Fitch. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc does not want to give up this success. He was combative: “We now have to act even faster and more resolutely to bring the outbreak under control.”
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