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May 14, 2020 / 12:24

No reason to doubt Vietnam’s coronavirus figures: Int’l experts

Vietnam tops countries for the number of coronavirus tests per confirmed case, with more than 900.

As some are skeptical about Vietnam’s coronavirus data, most experts believe Vietnamese authorities are being honest about coronavirus statistics, Australia-based ABC News has reported.

 Vietnam has reopened the economy after it has contained the virus. Photo: Reuters

“There was an honest realization and reporting by the Government from the beginning of January about the limited clinical resources available if this epidemic took hold, so Vietnam was swift in trying to keep the outbreak under control,” Mike Toole, a communicable diseases specialist at the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute, told ABC.

“They didn’t pretend it was just like the flu,” Professor Toole said. “They described symptoms, they told people where to get tested.”

Huong Le Thu, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), told ABC that international organizations, foreign epidemiologists and even Australia’s ambassador to Hanoi have expressed confidence in the data.

“I know I sound like I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, but I don’t see any alarm bells ringing about the accuracy or lack of transparency in the numbers,” said Sharon Kane, Vietnam country director at Plan International, an NGO that works on public health.

Reuters reported none of the 13 funeral homes it contacted in Hanoi have seen an increase in funerals amid the pandemic.

Earlier in April, John MacArthur, the CDC’s country representative in Thailand, said “Our team up in Hanoi is working very, very closely with their Ministry of Health counterparts.” “The communications I’ve had with my Vietnam team is that at this point in time, [they] don’t have any indication that those numbers are false.”

 Quarantine is one of Vietnam's though protective measures against the virus. Photo: Reuters 

Key to success

Key to Vietnam’s success have been strategic testing, aggressive contact tracing, and effective public communications campaigns.

Most importantly, Vietnam did these things quickly.

“From very early on, it was understood that this is something very serious, a virus that can infect everyone,” ASPI's Le Thu said. “Not just the person affected but everyone around them.”

Reporting its first case on January 22, Vietnam rapidly moved to establish a ministerial taskforce known as the National Steering Committee on Covid-19 Prevention and Control.

“Its first risk assessment exercise was conducted in early January – soon after cases in China started being reported,” the World Health Organization’s representative to Vietnam, Kidong Park, told AAP.

Vietnam “acted probably faster than any country in the world outside China,” Professor Toole said.

 Widespread testing proved to be effective in Vietnam's pandemic fight. Photo: Getty Images

By February 1, national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines announced the suspension of all flights to and from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Borders were closed soon afterwards, and all international flights suspended by March 21.

Meanwhile, Sharon Kane said: “There were many lessons learned from the SARS epidemic of 2003, and the government has cleverly used this rich experience and acted responsibly.”

Those returning to Vietnam have been required to undergo quarantine for 14 days at government-funded and operated facilities.

Vietnam has isolated all people even suspected of being infected. Tens of thousands of people have been placed into quarantine.

Notably, by early March, Vietnamese scientists had already developed several low-cost test kits.

The number of laboratories able to test for Covid-19 in Vietnam went from three in January to 112 by April.

“Vietnam has chosen a ‘low-cost’ strategy of testing those in isolation instead of conducting expensive large-scale screening,” Ton Sinh Thanh, former Vietnamese ambassador to India, wrote recently.

“Many tests were administered to people who were at a high risk of exposure, such as those at markets in Hanoi.”

By late April, the country had conducted more than 260,000 tests or 2,691 per million of population.

Vietnam tops countries for the number of coronavirus tests per confirmed case with more than 900, according to Our World in Data.

As of May 14, Vietnam has confirmed 288 infected cases and no deaths. Nearly one month has passed without local transmissions.