• September 28, 2020 10:06 am

Small and successful

ByNabeel Ahmed

Apr 17, 2020

In these grim times, when the world has brought the global superpowers to their knees, countries such as Vietnam, Bhutan and Nepal have won the first battle of ‘World War C’

As the world grapples with the Coronavirus pandemic, countries are trying to contain its spread on a war footing. Global superpowers like the US, China and the European Union are all facing an uphill task in tackling the spread even as they scramble to ensure that the effects of the pandemic are minimised. With the global death toll crossing 1,33,101, there is still a long way to go in flattening the curve. 

At the time of writing this article, the death tolls of the US (27,782) France (17,167) and Germany (3,592) draw attention to the fact that global powerhouses are struggling to contain the spread. Amidst the rising death toll, however, there is a  glimmer of hope. 

Vietnam, with a population of 9.55 crore, despite its closeness with China, has been able to ensure zero casualties. It have also been able to maintain a linear graph, with confirmed cases standing at 267. Even Bhutan, with a population of 7.54 lakh and a neighbour to India, has been able to ensure zero casualties with just five confirmed cases. 

So what has ensured that these countries have been able to keep the number of infections low and ensure no casualties? By all indications, it is  the prompt response to the impending danger

On 1 February, with just six confirmed cases in the country, Vietnam officially announced the outbreak of Coronavirus as an epidemic. On 13 February, the health ministry ordered a lockdown in Son Loi for 20 days, this being the first case of such a lockdown outside China. 

Counted amongst the fastest growing economies in South-east Asia, Vietnam did whatever it could to fight the virus. Putting towns and cities under lockdown when there were just 10 cases in the entire country made a difference in the way it is faring now. The country also kept track of the second, third and even fourth levels of contact to infected persons while the other countries, including India, were only looking at the first-degree contacts of the Covid-19 patients. This helped them to better strategise and contain the virus from spreading.

The country managed itself in a way that is comparable to mobilisation during a war. When Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said, “Every business, every citizen, every residential area must be a fortress to prevent the epidemic”, it hit the nail on the head. It helped harness the spirit of the Vietnamese to fight this pandemic together. While the citizens were abiding by the rules set down, the Vietnamese government also deployed the military at an early stage to ensure adherence to the regulations in every street and every village. 

While the military ensured compliance with governmental lockdown orders, other important steps were also taken by the government. Non-essential businesses were temporarily shut down, while operations for the provision of essential services were ramped up. Supermarkets were instructed to check the body temperature of all the customers while ensuring social distancing norms were followed. Stores were also instructed to ensure proper sanitation and use of hand sanitisers by every patron before they were allowed to enter the premises. 

Central Hanoinunder lockdown // Credits: Twitter

International organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have appreciated Vietnam’s comprehensive and low-cost approach to prevent the disease. Even in 2003, the WHO declared Vietnam as the first country to successfully contain SARS. This, despite thick population density, has made Vietnam one of the handful of countries which have successfully been able to contain the damage of the spread. 

But this is just the first step. While Vietnam has till now managed to contain the spread of the virus, it has a long way to go in ensuring that the problem of resurgence does not rear its ugly head. At the same time, another thing to look out for is how the country which had an annual growth rate of 7% will combat the economic fallout of the lockdown.  

Covid-19 has put the global economy in a precarious position. Will success on countering the disease help Vietnam revive and sustain its earlier growth figures? A recent report by the IMF, which predicts a global recession, has made a special exception for Vietnam. It forecasts a “lower-case” for the major developing ASEAN countries in (-0.5 to -5.0%) but mentions that Vietnam will be able to maintain its growth. It has predicted a +1.5% growth for the South-Eastern country. 

This in part could be due to the announcement of the Vietnamese government that plans to dole out 27 trillion dong ($1.16 billion) to help businesses cope with the economic impact of the lockdown in the country. 

Country-isolation

The tiny landlocked kingdom Bhutan has also been able to contain the outbreak of Coronavirus in the country. With a population of 7.5 lakh, it has just five Covid-19 positive cases with zero casualties. What makes Bhutan a success story is the prompt response of the country to the first Coronavirus case.

Bhutan reported its first positive case on March 6 and immediately shut its borders to foreign visitors for two weeks. One of the last Indian visitors, Avantika Chopra, tells the Patriot the strict measures Bhutan undertook to contain the virus. “People had shut their shops instantly after the first case. Most tourist spots were empty and no one was willing to even take a picture of a ‘foreigner’ because of the fear of getting coronavirus,” she says. On the other hand, she mentions, how everyone she saw was wearing a mask and gloves to protect themselves.

Although the country shut itself from the outside ‘contaminated’ world, it did not take any severe steps like lockdowns and ensuring social distancing. Imports, and international borders, however, stay shut. The social responsibility and sparse population of the country helped Bhutan’s fight against coronavirus. 

With its borders shut instantly after the first case, Bhutan also increased the quarantine time from 14 days to 21 days on 31 March. Even without a lockdown, Bhutan has managed to successfully contain the spread of coronavirus with just five cases in over a month by isolating itself from the rest of the world. 

While Vietnam and Bhutan have been able to contain the virus, Nepal has also had zero casualties until now. The rest of the world can emulate their playbook to ensure the end of the deadly virus.