Living with Covid

September 09, 2021 | 16:15
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While numerous countries are re-opening and living with the coronavirus, some still report large numbers of deaths and infections, leading to difficulties in identifying a balance between ensuring health and livelihoods – something Vietnam will also have to contend with.
Living with Covid
living with Covid, Photo: Shutterstock

Last week, Singapore started to ease restrictions on daily life and slightly loosened borders controls, on the back of having one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world.

The city-state eased its strict work-from-home rules and let 50 per cent of employees return to the office. It does not require temperature screening before entering public places like shopping malls and increases capacity to 1,000 for malls, cinemas, theatres, libraries, and stadiums.

Singapore is targeting vaccinating 80 per cent of its population - a market expected to be reached in early September in order to start relaxing some of its toughest travel restrictions. Some 78 per cent of the population has had at least one vaccine dose already.

Following the Lion City, Thailand is preparing for life with COVID-19 with preliminary plans being drawn up to relax some restrictions and reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors, even as new cases hover around 20,000 a day.

The focus going forward will be on containing infections to a level that doesn’t exceed the capacity of Thailand’s public health system, with key measures being total vaccination coverage for vulnerable groups and faster case-tracing, Bloomberg reported. Among the preliminary proposals are easing some quasi-lockdown rules next month and replication of a tourism-reopening project in October based on a pilot project in Phuket.

About 8 per cent of the population nationwide has been fully inoculated. Vaccination rates are higher in regions that have reopened under special tourism programmes, such as Phuket, and those with the worst outbreaks, including Bangkok. Earlier week, the government planned to issue a Thai COVID-19 pass to inoculated residents, which would allow access to certain places including restaurants.

Besides these two Southeast Asian countries, European countries are shifting the battle against the pandemic into long-term and low-intensity mode to prepare for living with it. Instead of zero COVID-19, countries from Germany to Italy are drawing up plans for campaigns of booster shots, mask-wearing, frequent testing, and limited social distancing measures to keep the virus in check ahead of the region’s third pandemic winter.

Germany, which has yet to fully lift pandemic restrictions, said this week that only vaccinated people, those who had recovered from an infection, or people with a recent negative COVID-19 test would be able to go to restaurants, hospitals, and other indoor venues unless infections fall below a very low level.

However, the United Kingdom has come under flak from British scientists as a country which is undertaking a “dangerous and unethical experiment” with its methods. After a full reopening back in July, including the return of nightclubs and sports stadiums at full capacity, case numbers and deaths are spiralling up again, although a large majority of people have been vaccinated.

Across the UK face masks are no longer required apart from in airports and hospitals, while fully vaccinated people are no longer required to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Currently, the public health system in the UK is under pressure and is unable to provide non-emergency care at the level that is needed, according to CNN. “If there was one lesson I wish other countries would take from watching the UK’s attempt to reopen is that vaccines are not the whole solution to the problem,” said Kit Yates, co-director of the Centre for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath. “They make a huge difference, but if you want to keep on top of this disease then you need to back vaccines up with other tried and tested public health measures, such as a locally-driven test, trace, and isolation system.”

In Vietnam, the population appreciated the freedoms they had throughout most of 2020 but this year’s Delta variant has defeated previous prevention methods thus far. However, the “5K + vaccine” strategy deployed across the country could still be a part of its long-term plan to live with COVID-19.

Analysing the complicated pandemic situation, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh last week said that even developed countries with great economic conditions and huge vaccine production capacity are still passive against the outbreaking of the coronavirus and overloaded on the health system. He is thinking of a strategy and a future that Vietnam will live with the virus.

“We are facing a complex, fierce, unpredictable, and difficult pandemic, so this may be enough long-term fighting for us to adapt and find out an affordable way to live with,” emphasised PM Chinh.

Economic expert Nguyen Tri Hieu said vaccination is the most prioritised condition for Vietnam to re-open. “At present, only 15 per cent of Vietnam’s total population have had the first dose, and 3 per cent are vaccinated fully. But we still need 70-80 per cent to be fully vaccinated.”

Vietnam may have advantages over western countries if following the strategies of such countries as Singapore and Thailand. Hieu said that the behaviours of Vietnamese are different from British people, who were much more averse to implementing the use of masks, social distancing, and medical declarations compared to other locations. “I believe that Vietnam could control the pandemic after re-opening if mass vaccination is carried out and 5K measures are well maintained,” he added.

Professor Tran Van Tho from Tokyo’s Waseda University said that Vietnam should build two phases to live with coronavirus. “In the short term, priority should be given to the fields and industries that produce essential goods like food to avoid disrupting supply and production chains,” Tho said. “Besides that, it is necessary to resume industries that are an export strength of Vietnam to keep pace with the recovery momentum of major partners like the US and Europe. Especially, urbanisation and rural development should be changed to disperse to mitigate outbreaks.”

By Hara Nguyen

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