17 May 2021

Vox: “Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out”

This strict approach to travel, global health experts say, is directly connected to Vietnam’s seeming defeat of Covid-19. Thirty-five people have reportedly died in total, and a little more than 2,700 have been infected with the virus during three small waves that have all been quickly quashed. Even on the worst days of the pandemic, the country of 97 million has never recorded more than 110 new cases — a tiny fraction of the 68,000 daily case high in the United Kingdom, which has a population one-third smaller than Vietnam, or the record 300,000-plus cases per day only the US and India managed to tally.

Last year, Vietnam’s economy even grew 2.9 percent, defying economists’ predictions and beating China to become the top performer in Asia.

At the same time, speaking out against travel bans had become synonymous with opposing nationalism and wall-building, said Lee. There were these progressive, human rights values that were upheld by not using travel measures.

But it’s now clear that the well-meaning advice and previous research findings didn’t match up with the situation the world was facing in early 2020. The new virus was different — more contagious and harder to stop. SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted prior to the onset of symptoms, if they ever occur — while with SARS and Ebola, for example, people are only contagious when they are very ill or symptomatic.

Julia Belluz

One of the more puzzling aspects of the pandemic for me was this constant insistence from many experts, including the WHO, that countries should not limit travel in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic. Quarantines and movement restrictions have been used for centuries to keep disease out, even before people understood the mechanisms causing infection. It is blindingly obvious that, if you prevent infected people from entering a region, that place will be protected from the spread. Even if travel restrictions only delayed infections, they would still be valuable measures allowing countries more time to prepare their health systems – just as the initial lockdowns were supposed to.

Officials inside the Van Don airport check details of Vietnamese citizens
Officials inside the Van Don airport in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province check details of Vietnamese citizens repatriating from Wuhan, China, on February 10, 2020. Son Nguyen/AFP via Getty Images

The best explanation I can produce for this unfounded scientific conclusion is that, in recent years, very few countries were willing to close their borders fast and thoroughly enough to block incoming pathogens. After more than a year living with this pandemic, we now have a couple of examples – Taiwan and New Zealand, alongside Vietnam – proving that minimizing travel and strict quarantines for incoming passengers can successfully keep viruses at bay, even one as infections as SARS‑CoV‑2.

Still, governments keep making the same mistakes, shunning travel restrictions, neglecting rigorous testing and quarantines for incoming passengers. The surge of cases in India has led to the emergence of new viral strains, which are now rapidly spreading throughout the world: in April, Belgium identified an outbreak of 20 cases of the Indian variant among 43 nursing students; Israel found three cases of the Brazilian variant in vaccinated citizens returning from abroad; Taipei raised the alert level in the city and introduced measures to contain a recent rise of cases, most likely introduced by travelers, as has Singapore, following the discovery of a large cluster at Changi Airport; and the Indian variant is rapidly spreading in the UK as well, following a wave of Indian nationals fleeing their country, and threatening to delay the relaxation of restrictions, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson was, yet again, slow to take decisive action. I fear this lax attitude towards travel will continue to prolong the pandemic, despite vaccination efforts and localized restrictions.

Post a Comment