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How did Vietnam control SARS-COV-2? With typical efficiency. How do we beat it? With a radical new plan. Read below.


photo by Sasin Tipchai courtesy of

An article in the Los Angeles Times  from April 23 describes the quarantine and isolation practices in Vietnam that have contributed to their successful, continuing fight against the novel coronavirus.  When Vietnamese authorities first heard about the new virus, they immediately implemented a plan that they had used against SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) just very recently (in 2004).

A few days after the first reported death in China from the virus, the health ministry held a high-level meeting with US and World Health Organization (WHO) officials and laid out their “containment plan”.  Vietnamese officials were spurred on by a suspicion of China that goes back hundreds of years to medieval invasions from their larger neighbor to the north.  Their plan was successful at limiting the number of known infections to 268 with no known fatalities– out of a country of 95 million people.  US officials, according to the article, find their numbers credible (unlike the numbers from China).  There have been no new infections in a week, and there are plans to re-open for business this week.

From the article:

Experts credit Vietnam’s early, decisive steps: swiftly banning nearly all travel from China, suspending schools in mid-January even before recording any infections, quarantining tens of thousands of people and employing the extensive Communist Party apparatus to communicate distancing measures and trace the contacts of COVID-19 patients.

The response was made possible by a Leninist one-party system that is often criticized for maintaining secrecy, silencing dissent and trampling on individual rights — but that has proven adept at tackling health crises since it was the first nation to stamp out the SARS epidemic nearly two decades ago.

Say what you will (and I do) about the lack of civil rights in Vietnam, their approach to controlling the virus has been successful, so much so that they are able to produce consumer goods and protective equipment in quantity for shipping to needy customers in the US.

But–I believe that it is possible to succeed in controlling this pandemic without resorting to totalitarian/authoritarian methods.

However, we would have to have total transparency and honesty from all government officials and clear plan of action.   This plan includes self-isolation of every contact to someone known to be ill and the contacts of those contacts.  It includes testing of everyone who contacts someone known to be ill, whether symptomatic or not, at an interval that allows us to catch asymptomatic carriers (that is, a week or two after contact).  It also includes testing everyone who wants to be tested, whether they are sick or not.  Most important, we must recognize that even universal tests will not catch everyone who is sick or a carrier.  Finally, we must test everyone who dies at home, even if they are suicides or homicides.  How do we know that someone has not committed suicide or killed a loved one because they had the virus?

On that grim note, I will close.  But, to be clear, I want to say again: it is not necessary to be or to become a totalitarian state to win the war against the novel coronavirus.  It is only necessary to inform everyone of the stakes involved, talk them into buying in, and supply them with the tools they need (food, medicine, entertainment, jobs) to stay isolated.  If that means giving a homeless person a home, I say, well, it is about time.  (What did he say?  Ohmygod, housing for the homeless, just because of SARS-COV-2?… well, why not?)

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