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Vietnam's Pocket Aces

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

As a business leader and expat living in Vietnam, there are a few additional thoughts worth mentioning that I think would help complete this* informative yet not entirely forthcoming article published at the end of March. Please keep in mind that I am not a doctor or a virologist, and these are logical observations that most locals would agree on.  

  As of today, it has become evident that there is only one country in the entire world which has indeed given this bloody virus a run for its money. It is not South Korea, nor Singapore, nor New Zealand. It is the only country which has officially not registered any deceased persons due to COVID-19. 

  Yes, we have to commend the government for its swift and timely actions but for someone who has come to know the cultural orientation of this nation and has some indirect information on what has not reached news outlets, the whole explanation includes a few more layers that have yet to be alluded to. 

   Vietnam has been sitting at the global COVID poker table with pocket aces. 

Right around the time of the official outbreak, some time back in mid-January, all shops, markets and businesses started to close down in preparation for the nation’s largest event, the Lunar New Year. By three weeks into January, tens of millions of people, practically half of the country, had temporarily migrated back from the major hubs of Ha Noi or Saigon to their respective home towns or villages. All schools and universities shut their doors by the time the first case was registered in Ha Noi on January 20th. 

  The historically inherent hatred and fear for their big neighbors, conjoined with their geographical location, played key roles in the government’s decision to not reopen schools after the two week long national holiday. As a result, life did not resume to status-quo and as more and more menacing news arrived from China, it was very logical to start screening airports and all foreign nationals. We have to admit they did it pretty efficiently. 

  Another factor, and in my opinion extremely important as to why Vietnam as a whole has been successful in containing the virus, is actually pretty banal, and I have not seen it mentioned anywhere so far. 

This country is the world leader for motorbikes per capita in the world**. Given the fact that the entire nation, from 12 years old boys to grandmothers, mostly get around on old scooters and veteran motorbikes, the gas emission and consequent air pollution forces most of the active people to wear masks. 

In almost every single household a set of masks counts as a basic item, with a consumer ratio, or density per-say, unrivaled in the world. It is always the exception to see someone not wearing a mask on their motorbike. Plus, their concern for UV rays has dressed most of the women and countless men up in gloves, long sleeves, sunglasses, caps and scarfs so that when moving around they could be mistaken for ninjas on motorbikes. It does not require sharp senses to realize that, at the very least, this social tendency significantly slowed down the spread of virus. 

  Ultimately, there is one more take away for the entire Western world regarding the human immune system, nutrition and cleanliness. Vietnam is lucky enough that it has reached a state of welfare in the last 10-20 years where people have a constant, sufficient and diverse supply of food on the table no matter which segment of society one chooses to examine. The country’s agriculture displays one of the widest palettes in the world** and literally everybody eats a whole variety of vegetables and grasses (not overcooked or masked in processed condiments as in Europe or in the USA) and fresh fruits. 

At the same time Vietnamese people are often looked down upon as being unhygienic. Most households have never owned a vacuum cleaner and meals are often had on the floor not on a table, let alone clean table cloth. While there is no denying the importance of washing one’s hands before eating, etc., the common exposure to good, immunity-building bacteria on top having comparatively healthy, rich diets, is sure to tilt the game in their favor. 

All in all, no one can foresee which country returns to normal life when, but if I had to bet who takes the jackpot, I would put my money on this amazing country, which still has a lot more to offer after kicking the butt of four world powers off of their soil in less than a century. 

Vietnam, you were very lucky this time, and it is up to you how you play your pocket aces now…

Published on April 18th, 2020 at


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