Françoise Baylis describes her experience of public health measures to counter coronavirus in Vietnam.
I am a Canadian citizen currently travelling in Vietnam, a country that borders China. In December 2019, a novel coronavirus was identified in China as a result of exposures at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. In late January 2020, the Chinese government locked down Wuhan — flights in and out of the city were cancelled.
At around this same time, Vietnam closed its borders to travelers from China. Since then the travel ban has been extended to other high risk countries. This is only one facet of the country’s response to the threat of coronavirus, however. There is also a risk mitigation and surveillance plan in place.
In public places where people congregate, hand sanitizer and masks are available free of charge. In some of these spaces medical checks are required. I have experienced this twice — once entering a theatre to watch a bamboo circus (think acrobatics à la Cirque du Soleil with 7 to 10 meter bamboo poles), and once entering a rooftop restaurant and bar. The medical check starts with a temperature check to identify persons with an elevated temperature (above 37 Celsius). If someone tests positive for an elevated temperature, a repeat test is performed. If the repeat test confirms an elevated temperature, the person is referred to the local hospital.
I have not witnessed a hospital referral, but I have witnessed the closure of a hotel and nearby eating establishments following the identification of a guest with coronavirus. The patient was sent to the hospital. Several hotel employees, a driver, and a tour guide were sent to quarantine at a military facility. The hotel was closed temporarily during which time it will be disinfected.
The most interesting and important facet of the government’s response to the risk of coronavirus is an impressive public education campaign, for locals and tourists, aimed at increasing public awareness and changing behaviours.
On a daily basis, everyone with a cell phone receives text messages in Vietnamese about hand washing and other ways of protecting oneself from the coronavirus.
Canvas-covered military trucks with posters about self-protection travel the streets of major cities. In urban areas, large posters are plastered on city walls. In rural areas, posters hang from trees. These posters showcase the precautions recommended by the World Health Organization. These precautions include:
- Wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub;
- Cover nose and mouth with tissues or inside of elbow when coughing or sneezing;
- Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms;
- Thoroughly cook meat and eggs; and
- Avoid unprotected contact with live wild or farm animals.
Youth, who are at home because classes have been suspended, are learning about self-protection against coronavirus from short dance videos. One such video, created as a response to a Tik Tok dance challenge, has gone viral. It has been featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and one of the dancers has been interviewed by international media. The video features two young boys dressed in mustard yellow whose dance moves mimic proper hand washing techniques — interlacing fingers, circle scrubbing thumbs, and shaking away excess water.
At the time of publication, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering dashboard, Vietnam, a country of 95.5 million people, in close proximity to the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, has had 34 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths (as of March 10). In Canada, a country of 37.5 million, there have been 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death.
When I return home to Canada I will be interested to see what measures the federal and provincial governments, in partnership with others, have taken to educate Canadians on how to protect themselves from community spread of coronavirus.
Françoise Baylis is a University Research Professor at Dalhousie University @FrancoiseBaylis