Saturday, 16 January 2021


Pandemic lessons from Vietnam

For Whitianga resident, Tom Costello, returning to New Zealand from Vietnam during the last week of April, wasn’t what he expected.

“I was in quarantine in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Auckland for two weeks,” says Tom. “That wasn’t pleasant at all. I’ve had to stay in my room virtually the whole time. Every second or third day, 10 or so of us were bundled together for an hour-long walk through Auckland with a security guard at the front and the back.

“The surprising part, however, was how completely locked down New Zealand was. Even when we moved to Alert Level 3, things remained very subdued. That was in contrast with what I’ve experienced in Vietnam, a country with more than 95 million people, but only 288 Covid-19 cases and no deaths. Economic activity wasn’t nearly as curtailed as in New Zealand. It’s widely expected that Vietnam will avoid a recession completely.”

Tom, who’s retired, arrived in Vietnam on 7 March. He visits he country every year, mostly using it as a base for exploring southeast Asia. This year, he was accompanied by his sister. “We flew into Ho Chi Minh City,” says Tom. “By the time we’ve arrived, Vietnam was already well on top of the coronavirus pandemic. Arrivals form certain countries were quarantined and all the schools were closed early in the year for a period of three months.

“Our temperature was taken at the airport and we’ve had to provide detailed information about where we were going to stay. There was no doubt that contact tracing was massively important. Out in the public, we’ve had to wear a mask.

“It was clear that the Vietnamese government was not only focused on limiting the potential spread of Covid-19, but also on identifying every positive case as soon as possible. A huge amount of testing for the virus was being done and even going to the supermarket, you had to wash your hands and your temperature was taken before you were allowed in.

“After a few days in Ho Chi Minh, we’ve flown to Da Lat and from there on to Nah Trang. Even travelling domestically, our temperature was taken getting off the aeroplane and we’ve had to provide information about our intended movements.

“Nah Trang is a beautiful city overlooking the coast. While we were there in late March and the first two and a half weeks of April, a two-week ban on public gatherings were imposed and people were requested to stay home, but many factories were allowed to keep operating.

“The two-week self-distancing period was a very good move to consolidate the gains Vietnam achieved by putting measures in place early to combat Covid-19. Much of the country is already back to ‘almost normal’ again.”

Tom and his sister returned to New Zealand as his sister wanted to ride out the pandemic closer to her children. Their journey home involved a 500km car trip from Nah Trang to Ho Chi Minh City and repatriation flights to Sydney and Auckland.

“It’s worrying to see how New Zealand ground to a halt the past six weeks,” says Tom. “And by all accounts, we’re better off than many other countries. The economic fallout is nevertheless going to be enormous. Hopefully no one of us living at the moment will experience a pandemic like the coronavirus again, but if we do, there’s a lot we can learn from Vietnam. Irrespective that it’s a communist country, their commitment to locating positive cases, sensible border control and maintaining effective contact tracing methods can never be underestimated. They are proof that early action makes it possible to achieve the best health outcome while avoiding economic devastation.”

Pictured: Wearing a mask, washing your hands and having your temperature checked are prerequisites for entering a supermarket in Vietnam during the Covid-19 pandemic.


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