I co-run Hacker Noon with my husband. Mostly, we just chase after our daughter Norah.
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"How many cases are current there?" - someone asked.
"8" - I said.
There was an audible gasp. Wow. Paranoid much? 8 cases and the whole country was already under a semi lockdown?
To be honest, I was just as surprised. By then my mom in Vietnam had been sending me daily messages for weeks, warning me of things like "avoid large gatherings", "stock up on your essentials", "reconsider daycare for Norah if you can", all of which I brushed off as overreaction from my typically worried-about-everything Asian Mom.
Now as many eyes are turned to Asia, the continent that's no longer considered the epicenter of the outbreak (it is now Europe, with over 60% of total active cases), I would like to spotlight Vietnam as a country at the forefront of this global fight against an invisible enemy.Not Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, or South Korea (or as I like to put it, Western media's favorite examples of "good" Asian countries). Yes, those countries have been doing spectacular job containing the virus. But so is Vietnam.
Yes, Vietnam, the country that borders China. Yes, Vietnam, the 15th most populated country with 97M people. Yes, Vietnam the communist, totalitarian country in most Western narratives. It is this country that has successfully kept the number of cases at 76 (as of March 19, 2020) and fatality at zero, over two months after the first cases were reported. And it's not because of underreporting. The West has a lot to learn from this tiny little country south of China, namely: 1. fast, efficient, affordable test kits 2. 14-day mandatory quarantine and 3. transparency via technology and social media.
Here's an account of one of my friends who gets tested in Vietnam:
"I went to one of the 30 testing centers available in Vietnam. They swabbed my nose and mouth. About 2-3 hours later, they let me know the preliminary results. In my case, it was negative. I then waited for a few more days for the Institute of Epidemiology in Hanoi to confirm the final result, which was also negative. It was quick, efficient, and painless."
As US closes its border to China & Europe, the country's been facing criticism regarding these "too little too late" actions. The reason: the disease has already been present within the US borders, and the virus knows no boundaries. The community spread will only get worse, even with these closing border actions.
Vietnam, on the other hand, has been mandating 14-day quarantine for all foreigners as well as returning Vietnamese from Covid-19 epicenters, on top of restricting travels from these regions. At first, these applied to people coming from China & South Korea. Of late, the mandate has been extended to people coming back from all of Europe, the UK and the US.
Here's the kicker: the Vietnamese government provided 100% of Vietnamese citizens and foreigners under quarantine with shelter, food and medical attention during these 14 days. They have been for the past 2 months.
"Suddenly it all becomes very human, we’re guests in a country doing their best to protect themselves and are extending us that courtesy. Such is the good nature of Vietnam."
Outside, everything is peaceful. The location is quiet, the soldiers work tirelessly to sterilize the rooms daily, log our temperature and clear out our bins. They live here to help their country and despite what they might have heard, they’re friendly and caring. So far, this feels more like a holiday camp than a quarantine. In our room, we share snacks, fruit, and start getting deliveries from loved ones."
Three: transparency via technology and social media
The US has a long way to catch up with Vietnam when it comes to transparency of information regarding the spread of Coronavirus. Here's a screenshot of an opinion piece I wrote to my local newspaper, the Vail Daily, that did not get accepted for publication last week:
the whereabouts of these cases (which cities, which neighborhoods)
general demographic information about the cases.
This government site used to carry case-by-county information just under a week ago. According to the Colorado government, testing will be more available by private companies, and demographic data will be presented here. Yet, when you click on it, the site freezes about 4 out of 5 times.
Let's take a look at how the Vietnamese government and media have been treating information regarding Covid-19.
Whenever there's a new case, the Ministry of Health (MoH) online portal immediately publicizes the case to all major news outlets and the general publics with details including: where the cases are, how they get infected, what actions are to be taken. Information is to be wide-spread across social media and television channels, even texted to your phone via a hotline.
The MoH and Ministry of Information & Media's sponsored mobile app, called NCOVI is extremely friendly and easy to use. The app allows you to: 1. submit health & travel information so you can get yourself tested 2. learn about the "hotspots" within the cities/whole country where new cases are defected 3. get up-to-date information regarding best practices re/ Covid-19 in Vietnam and in the world.
And lastly, y'all have probably seen this (frankly this is the only thing reported from Vietnam by the Western media), the Vietnamese viral hand-washing song. It was popularized by John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and TikTok. But did you know, the production company behind the song was the Vietnamese Ministry of Health? They partnered with the original composers and performers of the songs to encourage young people to pay more attention to hygiene.
As someone who lives in between two countries (born & raised in Vietnam, but have grown up and work and live in the US), I understand that culture plays a big factor in the difference between "the East" and "the West" reaction to the Coronavirus. For one thing, privacy is of much larger concern for Americans (and I would imagine Europeans too). It wouldn't fly well in the US or Europe if information about someone down to where they live or who their families/friends are get circulated with such speed, like it did with patient 17th in Vietnam. Furthermore (and this is obviously a gross generalization), the East generally values the community (or in this case, public health) while the West generally values the individuals (or in this case, privacy and personal freedom). It would make sense to me that then countries such as China, Vietnam, or Singapore, have a much easier time imposing "draconian measures" such as early lockdown or mandatory/voluntary reporting of suspicious cases.
I'm not saying I'm 100% in favor government being able to interfere with people's daily lives in all kinds of circumstances. But I truly do believe, in this case, the Western governments have got ways to go to play catch up with Eastern governments, especially the Vietnamese government. If only Vietnam had an "approval rating" like the West has, you probably would see a 99% approval rating for Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam with regard to his stellar campaign to fight Covid-19 in Vietnam thus far, from all Vietnamese young and old, liberal and conservative alike. Could you say the same thing about the testing and treatment provided by the US administration?