Vietnam in global COVID-19 fight and reopening strategy

September 18, 2021 | 14:04
Associated Professor Dr. Vu Minh Khuong from National University of Singapore elaborates on the highlights of the current COVID-19 fight around the world and in Vietnam, focusing on the prerequisites for Vietnam to reopen the economy and what the first steps should entail.
Vietnam in global COVID-19 fight and reopening strategy
Associated Professor Dr. Vu Minh Khuong from National University of Singapore

The world has logged in the COVID-19 pandemic fight for more than 20 months since its first emergence, leaving tremendous impacts both economically and in people’s life.

Albeit the pandemic situation is showing unpredicted complexities, many countries seem to acquire new perceptions in their pandemic fighting strategy, considering COVID-19 an endemic that cannot be fully eliminated. Looking at the global pandemic fight, as shown in Table 1, some assessments can be drawn.

First, the pandemic is plaguing almost all countries across all continents, irrespective of geographical location or level of development. As of September 16, 2021, of the surveyed countries the infection rate per one million people ranges from 5,300 in South Korea to 131,700 in Israel. Meanwhile, mortality rate per one million ranges from 10 cases in Singapore to 3,000 in Hungary.

In the eyes of international investors, Vietnam is becoming more charming by virtue of its resilience and kindness in crisis time although the country has also suffered big losses as in many countries.

Second, albeit the rate of new infections are below previous peaks (with the exception of the Philippines and Israel), the number of infections and deaths has grown in the past seven days compared to the previous weekin many countries, including those with high vaccination coverage (over 70 per cent) like Israel, Germany, and Canada. Israel's case shows that extensive vaccine coverage works in reducing mortality, but will not miraculously eradicate infections.

Third is the Swedish approach in pandemic prevention, which in my view is noteworthy. Unlike most other countries, Sweden did not apply "hard lockdown", but only called on people to show responsibility in pandemic prevention. The Swedish government thought that sustainable pandemic prevention needs to be based on people’s consciousness and their adaptability, while fear and restrictions are not sustainable.

Though Sweden’s approach has not yet brought perfect results, it seems to be a more sustainable solution on the long run. The current rate of infection is relatively high in Sweden (more than 110,000 people in one million, or 11 per cent), which is higher than countries adopting strict lockdown measures like Italy (7.6 per cent) or France (10.3 per cent).

The death rate in Sweden, however, is remarkably lower at 1,400 cases per million compared to the above countries (2,100 in Italy and 1,700 in France). Moreover, more and more countries are now realising that it is impossible to totally eliminate the disease and must co-exist with it.

Fourth, albeit the emergence of the Delta variant has raised infection and mortality rates in Vietnam, the rates remain lower than in other Asian countries and much lower than those in Europe or America.

In addition, infection and mortality rates are trending downward. However, with growing COVID-19 complications, Vietnam as well as other countries must be well-prepared for new complexities. In the fight against the pandemic, the success in the first fight, albeit glorious, did not mean a total success.

Nations

On one million people

The past seven days (to September 16)

Infections on 100,000 people

Up (+)/down (-) against previous week

Infection rate against its peak
(per cent)

Infections

Deaths

Infections
(per cent)

Deaths
(per cent)

Asia

Malaysia

63,400

689

393

-7.1

+28.1

82

Indonesia

15,400

516

11

-34.8

-53.7

9

Philippines

21,100

331

137

+14.6

-6.0

100

India

24,300

325

16

-23.0

-12.8

8

Thailand

20,300

212

140

-9.9

-24.9

64

Vietnam

6,600

168

84

-9.1

-9.5

85

Japan

13,100

135

41

-41.5

+5.3

32

Cambodia

6,100

125

27

+31.6

+12.9

66

South Korea

5,300

46

24

+4.9

+100.0

96

Singapore

12,800

10

68

>+60

55

Europe and America

Hungary

83,500

3,000

22

40.8

103.8

3

Brazil

99,500

2,700

50

-22.3

-3.5

20

Russia

49,800

2,600

89

+0.4

-1.9

64

Italy

76,500

2,100

99

-16.2

-5.9

13

Mexico

27,600

2,100

62

-17.8

-14.2

61

The US

126,600

2,000

66

-0.1

+28.7

62

The UK

109,400

2,000

326

-19.1

+4.4

51

Poland

76,200

1,900

9

+41.1

+14.1

2

France

103,200

1,700

89

-28.5

-13.6

16

Sweden

110,900

1,400

77

+12.6

-17.6

16

Switzerland

95,400

1,200

194

-13.1

-5.2

29

Germany

49,300

1,100

84

-5.7

+47.8

39

Israel

131,700

821

833

+47.2

+41.1

100

Canada

41,300

725

78

+11.3

+45.1

48

Denmark

60,700

450

52

-22.2

+23.8

12

Table 1: Statistics on COVID-19 across the world. Source: Reuters

Conditions to reopen the economy

The devastation of the ongoing fourth wave of COVID-19 is critical to Vietnam, particularly Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam, however, has been growing stronger in the pandemic storm, particularly through its pandemic-fighting experience.

In the eyes of international investors, Vietnam is becoming more charming by virtue of its resilience and kindness shown in the time of crisis, although the country has also suffered great losses like others.

Based on past experience, knowledge from the global pandemic fight, along with highest possible vaccination pace, Vietnam needs to take the initiative in reopening the economy and preparing for future development. The "reopening" needs the three following factors.

First, both leaders and people should have high consensus about strategy implementation with firm mindset on this crucial decision. It should be understood that COVID-19 will not disappear but remain a persistent danger with possible new variants. In the fighting against the pandemic it is important to have a long vision to ensure the livelihoods of the whole nation for future adaptation, besides just carrying out the "dual target" as we currently do.

Second, the whole nation and each locality needs to have viable pandemic-fighting plans with high levels of consensus. Some of the noteworthy contents include the hospitals and individuals having a handbook on F0 (COVID-19 patients) treatment and F1 management. Good experiences should be applied in other localities.

Logistics, transport, and production forces should be operating at least at 50-70 per cent capacity in all conditions. The entire nation, each individual, and business need to be highly accountable on pandemic prevention and containment, of which it is essential to strictly adhere to 5K requirements.

Third, Vietnam needs to prepare action plans for three scenarios of the reopening: favourable proceeding; volatilities within forecast level; and unpredicted complexities. We need to be ready to deal with unusual situations in several localities. Cases of infections might be soaring in one to three months as seen in Ho Chi Minh City before they would go down again with the application of strict control measures.

Setting initial steps

The whole country and each locality needs to examine social and economic activities by deciding if they are essential for the economy and people’s lives, and if pose a risk of infection. The latter depends on contact level and vaccine coverage.

In the strategy to coexist with the pandemic in the upcoming time, the localities should follow the approach: brave yet cautious; consistent yet flexible; and bringing forth the synergies of the whole society, particularly the people along with promoting socialisation to surmount the pandemic.

In this "new normal”, allowing the participation of the private sector in providing medical services to COVID-19 patients should be accepted as the state needs to focus on helping underprivileged and vulnerable people, in parallel to strengthening the medical system to cope well with upcoming challenges.

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional