Triac Composites is based in HCMC, Vietnam and, to date, has been able to keep operating throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, in a nearly-business-as-usual mode. The Vietnamese Government, actively supported by the people and the business community has been incredibly proactive in protecting both lives and livelihoods.
Around the globe, the Covid-19 outbreak has had a devastating impact on the health of both individuals and economies.
Few countries have been spared.
At the time of writing (8 April, 2020), the USA had recorded 399,000 cases (12,895 deaths); Spain 142,000 cases; Italy, 136,000; France, 110,000; Germany, 108,000; and China, 83,000 cases.
Despite Vietnam sharing a land border with China, Vietnam has recorded just 251 cases, with a recovery rate of 49 per cent - and without a single fatality. Of the 184 countries with the virus, Vietnam finds itself a long way down the list in terms of number of infections: it occupies 104th place. Underlining Vietnam's commitment and determination to root out all positive cases, 110,000 people are currently in self isolation or quarantine which is a figure 440 times higher than the total number of cases recorded in this country.
How has Vietnam achieved such an impressive result to date?
Vietnam jumped on the throat of the threat as soon as it revealed itself back in January and has not lifted its foot since.
Vietnam's first case
On 23 January 2020, the first day of the TET Lunar New Year Holidays, Vietnam recorded its first Covid-19 case.
Taking no chances, which has typified Vietnam's proactive response, Vietnamese Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc convened a government meeting and declared war on Covid 19 explaining that "Fighting the disease is fighting the enemy".
When businesses started up again after the Lunar New Year holidays, by order, schools did not. And they are still to return.
On 1 February, all flights between Vietnam and China were cancelled.
For a SARS-experienced country, the Vietnamese people were paying very close attention to developing threat of Covid-19.
When six people were confirmed to have Covid-19 in Son Loi (40 kms from Hanoi) on 13 February, the authorities took decisive action. They enforced a lockdown of the entire commune, with its 10,000 inhabitants, for 20 days!
The Government was sending out a very clear message that this virus was a genuine threat and needed to be treated seriously. It would isolate infected people and track down their second and third hand contacts who would then be forced to self isolate or go into quarantine.
Vietnam now had 16 confirmed cases.
The snake of a virus then seemingly disappeared but authorities remained on high alert. A few days passed without a new sighting; then 10 days, 20 days, 22 days...
The second wave
The door to Covid-19 reopened on 6 March when a Vietnamese national returned from Italy, via London. She was subsequently found to be Covid-19 positive. As per the rule book, the authorities quickly swung into action, identifying and isolating 200 people believed to have been in close contact with her, both on her flight and in her neighbourhood. Of the 200 people isolated, two more cases were identified.
Additional cases started appearing in Vietnam, all of them unwittingly imported from abroad by Vietnamese nationals and foreigners, particularly from the UK and to a lesser extent, the USA. As they were discovered, authorities would quarantine and isolate.
The Vietnamese people were now active soldiers in the fight against the virus.
While other countries would debate for months the merits of wearing face masks, most Vietnamese and some forward-thinking foreigners were already wearing them in public (later the government would mandate the wearing of masks in public at all times by all people). Hand sanitiser began appearing at entrances to apartment buildings, in lifts, at work places etc. Security guards everywhere began pointing infrared thermometers at people's foreheads. Social distancing became far more prevalent and has now been strengthened under government directions to 2 metres. The Ministry of Health (MOH) was sending SMS messages to all subscribers with Covid 19 updates. Details would be updated twice per day on the MOH's website.
Details of locations visited by positive cases and dates were also publicised on the Ministry's website to enlist the support of the wider community in tracking down potential infections.
Where the risks are higher and there is greater urgency in preventing a wider spread through the community, newspapers publishes articles with specific details. Take today's article (8 April 2020) in Tuoi Tre News, Vietnam health ministry looking for people linked to COVID-19 patient No. 243. The article lists the places and times that the infected patient has been to. In addition, reflecting the sense of gravity and urgency, the article reports that the patient infected at least three other people in a village of 10,873. And so, the previous day, the entire village was quarantined for 14 days.
On 15 March, Vietnam extended the border restrictions from China to now include the UK and Schengen area (26 European countries), irrespective of whether passengers were intending to visit or transit through Vietnam.
One day earlier, the Executive Director of the British Business Group in Vietnam. Peter Rimmer, returned to HCMC on Vietnam Airlines' last flight from London before it would suspend services.
As per the very clear advice given to all passengers in London, upon arrival in HCMC, Peter and his fellow passengers were immediately placed into 14 days of forced quarantine (an army barracks near the airport). Self isolation was not considered an option by authorities due to the assessed risks associated with the prevalence of cases emanating from Europe.
At the end of Peter's 14 days in quarantine, Peter thanked the Vietnamese "who have helped and assisted with my stay in quarantine. It is really hard to explain just how much it is appreciated". Peter went on to say that "Vietnam appears to have addressed the Covid virus very well and indeed has set a mark for the rest of the world to follow".
Vietnam suspends entry of all foreigners
As the global health crisis deepened, on 22 March, Vietnam suspended the entry of all foreigners into Vietnam.
Despite the disruption to business, nine foreign business chambers jointly wrote to the Vietnamese Government at the end of March to "express our gratitude and support for the Vietnamese Government’s efforts to keep all safe and well in this unprecedented health crisis. As foreign individuals and companies..., we recognize the extraordinary efforts being made to keep all people safe and to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Vietnam".
At the same time, all restaurants, gyms, bars and other entertainment venues were ordered closed - but factories and other businesses remained open with tighter restrictions.
Vietnam temporarily suspended the export of rice to ensure food security. Domestic flights were significantly reduced to one daily return flight between the cities of Hanoi, Danang and HCMC.
On 1 April, Vietnam implemented strict social distancing rules which are not due to be lifted until 15 April. The restrictions mean that gatherings of more than two people are banned and people should keep a distance of two metres from each other. People should only leave their homes for work, food and medicine.
In the past five days, Vietnam has recorded 4, 4, 1, 3 and 4 new cases. Many of these cases have come from overseas and, accordingly, the patients were escorted directly from the airport and placed into quarantine, removing any potential threat to the wider community.
However, as described above with the Ha Loi Village example, there are still domestic cases where the authorities urgently seek to identify and quarantine any other person who may have been infected before they have the chance to pass it on.
Can Vietnam catch the last of the Covids?
The Government, the people and the business community know that regardless of today's result, tomorrow's result and the day after's result, Covid-19's highly contagious and cagey nature make it incredibly difficult to cage.
Eternal vigilance and swift, decisive action, as required, is what the Government and community continue to practise.
This incredibly proactive approach undertaken by the Government and embraced by the wider community, has created enough space for Vietnam to mostly remain open.
At the macro level, this space has minimised the degree of disruption to the economy and the community while the great search for a vaccine continues.
At the micro level, this space allows companies like Triac Composites to keep operating (with temperature checks, face masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing). That keeps our staff at work, building products for our paying customers. That then allows us to pay the staff each month which, in turn, enables them to continue supporting their families.
Protecting lives and livelihoods
Nobody knows what will happen in the future but, after refreshing the John Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Centre's website page for a global perspective, Vietnam's effort to date in protecting lives and livelihoods has been an incredible balancing act that has produced outstanding results.
Many chambers of commerce just sent a letter to the Vietnamese Government, Vietnam Insider, 3 April 2020
Vietnam's Coronavirus struggle: the import dimension, The Diplomat, 27 March 2020
How Vietnam is winning its war on Coronavirus, DW, 26 March 2020
Vietnam's Coronavirus offensive wins praise for low cost model, Financial Times, 23 March 2020
British Executive at Covid-19 Centre: thank you Vietnam, Custom News, 22 March 2020
British Director quarantined at Vietnam military camp: ‘it’s like going on vacation’, Thoi Dai, 21 March 2020
What the West can learn from Vietnam's response to Covid-19, Hackernoon, 20 March 2020
How Vietnam learned from China's mistake, The Diplomat, 17 March 2010
Novel Coronavirus lockdown rekindles community spirit in Vietnam, VN Express, 6 March 2020
2020 coronavirus pandemic in Vietnam, Wikipedia
Ministry of Health Vietnam, Covid-19 Resource Centre (Vietnamese)