Anthony D. Salzman was the first American businessman in Hanoi. Referred to as “Mr. Vietnam” in the early days, he was a key player in building the commercial relationship between Vietnam and the United States. He co-founded the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi and the Vietnam Business Forum, and he was one of the first trustees of the United Nations International School in Hanoi. Salzman was awarded the “Friendship Medal” by the President of Vietnam.
Anthony just sent an open letter to Vietnam’s Deputy prime minister Vu Duc Dam and copied to Vietnam Insider, appreciating what the government, and the Vietnamese people deserve the world’s admiration for doing what almost no other country could do.
Here’s what he wrote
Dear Vu Duc Dam,
I learned that you are the man responsible for Vietnam’s amazing victory over the Coronavirus! You, the government, and the Vietnamese people deserve the world’s admiration for doing what almost no other country could do.
As a native New Yorker who didn’t serve in the Vietnam War due to a lucky selective service lottery number, it’s paradoxical that I moved myself, wife and four-year-old daughter here 25 years ago to escape violent crime that plagued New York in those days. I found safety and peace here, a good place to raise my family, a good living from my V-TRAC business, and an opportunity to do good things for Vietnam and the United States.
I can’t help but note another painful paradox: while America has more than 1,400,000 COVID 19 cases with more deaths over the past two months than during the entire war between our countries, Vietnam has only had
270 Coronavirus cases at the pandemic’s apex, and none of its 96 million people have been killed by the pandemic.
It’s good to see the western press start to credit Vietnam for its win, but the foreign observers missed some critical ingredients in Vietnam’s recipe for success which I want to provide. Despite less economic strength and your border with China, the pandemic’s ground zero, you stomped out the pandemic with a tiny fraction of the resources mobilized in the United States or Europe. It’s important for the world to learn how Vietnam did it.
First of all, Vietnam well and truly nipped the virus in the bud. The alarm had been sounding since the news from Wuhan first broke. And when WHO announced the pandemic, Vietnam instituted social distancing measures immediately.
Quarantine triage guidelines to determine which individuals, buildings, and neighborhoods to lock down, arranged lodgings for thousands of arriving travelers, the delivery of food and medical care had been planned well in advance, ready to be activated in an emergency.
While the country has been under restrictions that seem like martial law, the secret ingredient is that the Vietnamese people are willingly cooperative. The government won hearts and minds through intensive messaging combined with workable solutions, such as rigorous temperature testing before entering buildings, excellent traveler health tracking, sensible quarantine rules, and free meals delivered to the doorsteps of quarantined apartments.
About 260,000 people have been tested, which is not a large percentage of the population. But with an astounding 800 tests per confirmed case, Vietnam’s focused use of testing resources may be more effective than the “mass testing” of entire populations being pursued in many western countries.
Trendy music videos, colorful posters, and health messages inserted before every outgoing phone call connects, gently suggest frequent hand washing and urge people to stay home except for essential outings (after dial tone, before ring). Government SMS health updates arrive at every mobile phone, several times daily at the peak. Some messages are social distancing reminders, some are tracking alerts that identify places visited by people with the virus so others can self-select themselves for testing. It feels like government helping, not intruding people’s privacy.
Useful pandemic information dominates in the media, together with spin about how well Vietnam as a nation is faring that include tallies from different Vietnamese cities. There’s even a philanthropic race between cities to determine whose residents contribute the most to a food program for people under quarantine.
Other countries could benefit if they understand that Vietnam’s battle against the pandemic became a matter of nation-wide competitive pride akin to that generated for local and national sports teams. Everyone wants to do his share to be part of the success.
Of course, the economy suffers, and the hardship is great. Some measures seem harsh, such as enforcing the use of face masks with $8 fines, equal to a day’s wage for most Vietnamese. But it’s a far cry from prison punishments imposed in China or Venezuela and there is a common feeling
that if everyone cooperates to prevent the virus from spreading, everyone will be safe within a countable number of weeks.
But the public’s support to fight the pandemic did not arise from state policy or agitprop. The Vietnamese people united in tacit agreement to pay the temporary price of strict social distancing to liberate themselves from coronavirus.
Why can’t America do the same?
American culture is unable to sacrifice individualism easily or quickly. We can say we’re all in this together, as a people. But we’re not. Not the way Vietnam is. We Americans might excuse ourselves in the name of freedom from central authority. But without an enemy attack like Pearl Harbor or 9/11 to galvanize us, America seems incapable of harnessing the kind of collective action that has made it so formidable in other past crises.
Western countries should realize that the price of weaker coordination is coping with this virus until a vaccine is found. And accepting hundreds of thousands of sick and dying victims as the new “normal” erodes into our social fiber and our image as a nation.
In America, the feuding mentalities of different cities, states and the federal government exacerbated with rebellions against confinement in some locations, will not be resolved in time to stop this pandemic. Instead, the crisis will ebb and flow until science ends it, which it eventually will.
But there is the lurking specter that sooner or later, whether natural or deliberately engineered, there might be another pandemic. The world should draw lessons from how Vietnam handled this one so as to be better prepared to deal with the next. All countries need to learn how to summon collective strength to deal with a new kind of war. And they need their federal governments to take the lead in designing helpful and consistent crisis messages paired with workable solutions that their states and cities can implement.
By Anthony D. Salzman
More information about him can be founded at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_D._Salzman