COVID-19: What can we learn from Vietnam?

5 min read

Although the Covid-19 pandemic in Asia is far from over, Vietnam has thus far had a remarkably lower rate of infection than many of its neighbours in the Asia Pacific region.

The country’s preparedness and rate of response to the crisis has earned praise from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and has enabled sectors, such as construction, to safely continue operation.

So what can we learn from Vietnam’s response?

John Campbell, Mace’s Country Director for Vietnam, talks about how the country’s preparedness has enabled the construction industry to continue delivering much needed infrastructure and property during the pandemic.

Learning from the past

As news of the novel coronavirus broke in China, the Vietnamese government didn’t waste any time in mobilising its military and medical personnel. The country’s encounter with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which spread from China to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and Canada in early 2003, had prompted a high level of preparedness. By the end of January, the government actioned its rapid response plan and put measures in place to halt the spread of Covid-19.

With limited resources, Vietnam has not embarked on mass testing, but rather focused on the isolation and tracing of infected people, along with school closures, flight suspensions and quarantine of new arrivals. A proactiveness born out of the lessons learned from SARS, has enabled a balance in fighting the epidemic while supporting the economy.

The government has focused on the restriction of movements where needed, as opposed to large-scale lockdowns. This approach, coupled with stringent health and safety guidelines and transparent communication with the public, is widely regarded as the key to its success in keeping the country open for business.

Safeguarding lives and the economy

Looking back, Vietnam is one of the most dynamic and emerging markets in the Asia Pacific region and has undergone remarkable development over the past 30 years. A shift from a centrally planned to a market economy has transformed the country from one of the world’s poorest nations to a lower-middle income country. Construction growth has been instrumental for delivering economic benefits to Vietnam and has helped to create some of the region's most iconic structures.

In view of the construction sector’s crucial importance to the economy, the Vietnamese Ministry of Health has not announced any site closures to date. Instead the government took the decision early on to issue strict guidelines to investors and subcontractors to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Although some investors have made the decision to halt construction on certain projects, several sites in the largest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, which have managed to implement the required preventative measures, remain fully operational at the time of writing.

Mace’s teams are in full compliance with the government’s guidelines. The health and safety of everyone on site remains the number one priority, but with stringent measures in place, sites can operate effectively without compromising employee wellbeing.

The guidelines stipulate that surfaces, equipment and machines that have been in direct contact with workers must be disinfected and construction areas must be sanitised. Body temperature checks are in place for people at the beginning and end of each shift. Any recordings of body temperatures of 37.5oC or higher must be immediately reported to the local health authority.  

Like the rules in other countries affected by Covid-19, construction schedules must limit the amount of people on site, with no more than 30 individuals present on any working floor during a shift. We have implemented meticulous measures of sanitation, face masks and other protective equipment, as well as the limitation of direct contact between people at distances under two metres.

Governments across the world have had to make difficult decisions in tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Although there is cautious optimism that Vietnam will fare better than many other countries in the fight against Covid-19, it is too soon to declare victory. What we do know is that by allowing sites to stay open and by putting the onus on subcontractors and investors to follow guidelines that prevent the spread of the virus, the Vietnamese government has given the economy a fighting chance for growth.