COVID Variant Puts Vietnam’s Pandemic Success to the Test

COVID-19 infiltrating the strongest walls . . . 

After 55 days without recorded community transmission, Vietnam has identified two unrelated COVID-19 cases in its northern provinces with unknown origins, pointing to gaps in its border and quarantine measures. The first case was a factory worker from Hai Duong province who travelled to Japan for work and tested positive for the U.K. variant upon arrival in Japan. After Japan notified Vietnamese officials in the worker’s hometown, they directed her close contacts to get tested and isolate under surveillance. The second case of the variant was an airport worker who presented with symptoms at a local hospital on January 27 in Quang Ninh province and later became a confirmed case.

New outbreaks met with hardy defences . . .

After a close contact of the first case tested positive, Vietnam immediately deployed its tried-and-true pandemic responses – widespread testing, tracing of third-level contacts, school and business closures, quarantine orders, and targeted lockdowns of affected areas. The outbreak was eventually brought under control, but not before Vietnam logged 317 cases in one week, 11 of which were confirmed to be caused by the U.K. variant. While officials expressed confidence in pandemic management strategies, the outbreak's timing posed significant challenges to containment efforts. It coincided with the country’s 13th Communist Party Congress and the upcoming Tết Holiday (Lunar New Year), the latter often seeing increased travel volume and large social gatherings.

What will happen to Vietnam’s glowing pandemic track record?

Major media outlets and public reports consistently rank Vietnam’s pandemic performance to be among the best globally, drawing from its extensive contact tracing efforts and swift, stringent border control measures. Additionally, the government’s co-ordinated responses and effective communication have garnered high public trust and lessened pandemic fatigue. Following the initial outbreak in March, officials committed to a pandemic management strategy that keeps the economy open while minimizing community transmission risks. Thanks to these policies, Vietnam has yet to enter a formal country-wide lockdown, despite the increased case count and deaths in its subsequent outbreaks. Nonetheless, the emergence of new, more infectious variants requires heightened surveillance and agility in responses that have proven to be a challenge in all parts of the world.