Rappler Talk Investigative: Guy Thwaites on Vietnam’s effective strategy against coronavirus

Here’s an excellent 18-minute interview with Dr. Guy Thwaites, Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit and Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programme in Viet Nam; Professor of Infectious Diseases, University of Oxford; Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation trust; Honorary Professor, MRC Clinical Trial Units at University College London.

Below is a response from Carl Thayer, a well-known Viet Nam expert based in Australia, that he posted on the Vietnam Studies Group listserv.

I just watched the Rappler interview with Dr. Guy Thwaites from the Oxford Clinical Infectious Unit at the3 Ho Chi Minh Hospital for Infectious Diseases. I highly recommend this to all VSGers who are interested. Thwaites is very articulate.

Take away points: Vietnam was successful first and foremost because it was very quick in its response.

Second, Vietnam was careful to identify cases, do contract tracing, and quarantine. More than 200,000 were quarantined, 70,000 of whom where in government facilities and the others in hotels or home.

Who did the tracing? Personnel at Vietnam’s Centre for Disease Control. They did it the old fashioned way, the simple way without use of high tech. Professor Thwaites argued Vietnam was unique in contact tracing going down to second (F2) and third (F3) hand contacts.

Third, Vietnam has a good system for communications operating since mid-January via SMS that went out to the general population. There was also the now famous video that went viral on washing hands and good hygiene.

Are Vietnam’s claims of no deaths credible? Professor Thwaites said yes based on his personal experience at the treatment centre in Ho Chi Minh City and liaison with the national centre in Hanoi. He said this was due in part to the young age of the population (average age 30). Vietnam has 21 severe cases, and three had to be taken off their ventilators and put on a machines to oxygenate their blood (the technical term escapes me). NOTE: The name is extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

When asked about Vietnam being a one-party state and able to mobilise the state (surely taken from my first observations), Thwaites agued it was irrelevant. The key was the quick and coordinated response and good epidemiology. He argued that the response to COVID is best in countries where the health care system has been socialised and unified.

I would argue we would be splitting hairs over the role of the one-party state. Vietnam’s health care system is socialised because it is a single party state.

Vietnam’s 21-day national lockdown was “was the finishing point” because public health authorities felt it necessary to control clusters. Since 15 April there have been no cases of community transmission.

Vietnam is repatriating citizens abroad and some are returning with COVID-19 and they are being quarantined.

Carlyle A. Thayer
Emeritus Professor,
UNSW Canberra
The University of New South Wales
School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the
Australian Defence Force Academy
Canberra, ACT Australia

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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