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What the West can learn from Vietnam

When I first arrived in Vietnam, in 1989, evidence of the American war was to be seen in most places (that we were allowed to travel to as foreigners) in the form of abandoned military hardware, gun turrets, bomb craters, lack of running water for households and limited food supply. A very different story today as we look around the whole country, with a reduction in poverty from over 70% in the mid 90’s to under 10% today pre-COVID 19.

What the future impact is of the current pandemic, which is ravaging western developed countries, is yet to be seen, but I am sure that the recovery in Vietnam will be better and faster, than in much of the developed world, if we look at Vietnam’s performance so far.

Vietnam’s development, since Doi Moi, was largely achieved thanks to foreign direct investment and technology transfer, from the west, together with training and capacity building, from developed countries. This is not meant to ignore the hunger of Vietnamese people to learn and develop themselves and the investment in education by Government, private sector and the population as a whole.

Whilst country has not had the benefit of fiscal surpluses or large Foreign exchange reserves, it has taught us how to successfully manage the COVID 19 pandemic through rigorous contact tracing, quarantine measures and testing. In my opinion Vietnam has not received the deserved level of  international recognition, from the news channels on it’s amazing achievement, which establishes it as one of the safest, if not the safest, countries in the world, in the contest of COVID 19.  Vietnam was similarly successful during the SARS epidemic. Vietnam has only recorded 268 cases of the disease (as of today April 18th) and so far 201 recoveries and no fatalities, which is a far better record than the Isle of Man (United Kingdom) or Newfoundland ( Canada) . Let’s not forget Vietnam is a population of 96 million with a significant border with China and yet it has only recorded 268 cases of COVID 19.

The first 2 cases were recorded in Vietnam on January 23rd a father and son travelling from Wuhan China and on February 15th case no 16 was recorded. Vietnam then went 20 days until March 6th to declare a new case, which was a Vietnamese returning from Europe.  It has taken longer with the second wave to bring it under control but as of today (April 18th) we have gone 48 hours with no new reported cases.

Vietnam was swift to take action and the population have fully supported the government’s actions, which include closure of all schools from after the lunar New Year holiday at the beginning of February.

Vietnam started preparing for the epidemic immediately the first cases were reported in China (mid to late December 2019)[1] and on January (24th) the Civil Aviation Authority cancelled all flights to Wuhan China. Use of face masks also started very early on in the piece, probably because face masks are a common everyday item in Vietnam, because of the amount of people travelling on motor scooters and the pollution levels.

Vietnam was also quick to impose quarantine requirements on all arriving international passengers, when the second wave started and stopped all international flights in and out at the end of March 2020.

Even in comparison to other commended examples like South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, Vietnam has experienced a much lower number of cases and no deaths[2]. Unlike the extensive testing strategy in South Korea, Vietnam, which is less economically developed, owes its success to a low-cost model based primarily on strict quarantine and contact-tracing policies.[3] &[4]

Vietnam’s challenge is supporting business and the economy as they are not in a position to inject large amounts of money into the economy, as the west is able to do even though this is badly needed in many sectors. In the first quarter over 350,000 businesses closed[5]. The government has however allowed several sectors to continue to operate and has announced several support packages with deferrals of tax payments and land lease payments, reduced electricity prices and other measures to financially support laid off workers but at very low levels of support.

I believe the domestic economy will bounce back relatively quickly but it is too early to predict the impact on exports and on the recovery of the global economy, which are key drivers of the economy. However, the one certain thing in all this is the success of Vietnam in handling and containing the epidemic, in spite of its limited resources.

Kenneth M Atkinson

Founder and Senior Board Adviser

Grant Thornton Vietnam

[1] Wikipedia 2020.

[2] Humphrey, Chris; Pham, Bac (14 April 2020). "Vietnam's response to coronavirus crisis earns praise from WHO"

[3] "Vietnam's coronavirus offensive wins praise for low-cost model". Financial Times. Retrieved 30 March 2020.

[4]Ebbighausen, Rodion (16 April 2020). "How Vietnam is winning its 'war' on coronavirus"

[5] Vietnam Chamber of commerce and industry.

Founder and Senior Board Adviser
Kenneth Atkinson Contact
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