Virus-Free New year in Vietnam

December 31, 2020 | 22:00
Living in Vietnam for over half a decade, Etienne Mahler has experienced the pandemic in Vietnam first-hand and seen how the nation’s unity and smartness led to an astounding victory over the disease thus far. As New Year is approaching, he shares his thoughts about the freedom he can enjoy now, safe and sound in his chosen new home.
virus free new year in vietnam
Etienne Mahler

With the pandemic not just crushing nations’ ambitious development plans and livelihoods of families and individuals but also costing around 1.7 million people’s lives, not a single incident this year comes close to the impact the global health crisis had.

While I was quite happy to move my entire study programme online, leaving me with the joy of waking up just five minutes before any given course, millions of people lost their jobs and economical safety almost in the blink of an eye.

After the first infections appeared nearly everywhere around the globe, many of my Vietnamese friends came to me and tried to reassure me that my birth country, Germany, would go through this pandemic relatively unscathed – comments they based on the country’s well-developed healthcare system and its wealth.

Some left these comments while fearing that their own country could suffer much more, as its health system and general development status were often considered inferior to Germany. However, at the end of 2020, Vietnam has emerged as one of the most successful countries when it comes defeating the pandemic. For this, it is now reaping the benefits.

I have been living in Vietnam for more than six years now and spent my time on studying the language, the culture, the history, and many more things. One thing in history I always wondered about was how Vietnam could win nearly every war against foreign invaders in the past.

The country had been occupied by the Chinese, the French, the Japanese, the American, and so forth – all military powers that used to be quite advanced and superior in technology during the respective periods. However, what they were maybe lacking was this sense of unity and, what I would call, the typical Vietnamese smartness.

These two traits are exemplary for the foundation that led to many of the Vietnamese successes throughout their history as well as during this ongoing health crisis.

Like during the famous battles at Bach Dang River by Ngo Quyen in 938 and Tran Hung Dao in 1288, the Vietnamese simply outsmarted their common foe, the new coronavirus, by taking him on with unity and a healthy portion of national self-assurance – traits that have been hard to find in my home country.

The strategies at the river’s battles and during the current crisis are quite similar. While, of course, we cannot impale a virus with wooden stakes, the idea of stopping the foe at the gates and eradicating him before any serious threat could be posed to the citizens further inland is the bottom line of both approaches.

Equipped with such battle-ready ingenuousness, the entire nation seemed to pull on one string during this year. I have not seen or heard of a single person protesting against the measures the government imposed in Vietnam.

Quite the contrary, people here have been embracing everything related to stopping the pandemic, with countless war-like propaganda images and now-famous pop songs being history’s witnesses that people centuries later will proudly look at, rightly so.

Meanwhile, demonstrations against mandatory social distancing, facemasks, and other strategies suggested or imposed by the German government have been going on for months. The sad highlights of these events were some speakers that dared to compare themselves to the closest thing to national heroes we have in Germany.

Among them, the 22-year-old anti-lockdown protester who stood on stage in the central city of Hanover in November and said, “I’m 22 years old, just like Sophie Scholl when she fell victim to National Socialism”, the public outcry became unstoppable.

While there have been many Vietnamese facing the same difficulties that Germans complain about, the former have been standing together during the crisis, with their government leading its people with a consistent and strict approach towards the dangers of the spreading disease.

While German politicians were jumping back and forth between regulations, they knew were right to impose – but possibly not well received by the ever-growing anti-lockdown front – they made the promise that people could still look forward to a few days of cosy Christmas and Happy New Year celebrations.

About two weeks ago this promise began to crumble as most politicians in Germany realised that the growing infection numbers could only be stopped if a lockdown was in place. As a result, five households could meet for Christmas, and gatherings on New Year’s Eve are prohibited, together with any sales of fireworks and the use thereof.

Meanwhile in Vietnam, this year’s New Year’s Eve will be really quite normal. People will be able to go out, drink alcohol, dance, and just have fun together. All of this is possible because the Vietnamese – together with immigrants and expats in the country – stood together when it was necessary.

To be honest, it feels strange to live in some sort of secluded, nearly corona-free enclave, while people in my home country are still coping with the threats to their health and livelihoods. I hope that they will be fine, but I am also a bit shocked about the developments there.

Here in Vietnam, the government led the nation in such an easy-to-follow and transparent way that all measures have been carried out effectively – and happily by those who followed. The reward for this is that we can now celebrate a safe and virus-free New Year’s Eve together. Well deserved, Vietnam.

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