Coronavirus Containment in Vietnam: a Culturalism Viewpoint

Dr. Le Thu Mach
April 5, 2020


H.E Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, Vu Duc Dam, the Commander in Chief of the Vietnam National Board of Command against Covid-19 pandemic. Image Courtesy: Vietnam Government e-Newspaper

The strategy of coronavirus containment has gained massive consensus in Vietnam. An analysis from a cross-cultural communication perspective can justify nationwide acceptance. 

As of 27 March 2020, Vietnam reported 153 cases of Covid-19, 20 of them had recovered, and the fatality was surprisingly still kept at zero. Many businesses, schools, and offices have been shut down since the Lunar New Year in late January 2020. People have been practicing the Ministry of Health’s guidance of hygiene, although it clashes with personal convenience to some extent. Many communes, apartments, and streets have been locked down, while tens of thousands of travelers from overseas have been living in quarantined military camps. Since the country turns to the war-mode amidst Covid-19 pandemic, Vietnamese millennials, the group that makes up of 40 percent of the Vietnamese population, who were born and grew up during the Doi Moi or the economic reform, can now experience the spirit of discipline from the soldiers, that helped their older generations win wars in the past. 

Geert Hofstede’s theory of individualism and collectivism in cultural communication dimensions can be applied to justify why Vietnamese people are performing a high level of conformity to the top-down governmental decisions. Hofstede defines the theory as: 

The degree to which people in a country prefer to act as individuals rather than as members of groups. On the individualist side, we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts, and grandparents), which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty”. 

While many countries in the West have the culture of respecting individualism, Vietnam has been highly collectivism-oriented, with the collectivism index recorded at 80 points over 100. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, collectivism has been reflected in many community practices.

First, the community protects each other. Those living in quarantined zones are served with free-of-charge basic amenities and food for 14 days. Compulsory and free medical treatment in specialized hospitals is provided to all Vietnamese patients. The Government sent a rescue flight to evacuate Vietnamese people from the pandemic epicenter of Wuhan in China. The private aviation companies are also planning for more rescue flights to help the Vietnamese Diaspora in Europe. The Prime Minister, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Information and Communication send daily messages to all mobile phones nationwide, in the form of personal health care reminders. Soldiers and students vacate their dormitories to make places for quarantine. 

Second, the community closely watches its members, and consequently, all cases are traceable. Whenever a new case is detected, the public is notified with the sequence of the patient’s moves, where the patient traveled, people the patient met, and the likely track of virus transmission is tracked. This helps to form four rounds of quarantine: F0- the patients, quarantined and treated in hospitals; F1-the close contacts of patients and will be tested, F2-the close contacts of F1, and F3-the close contacts of F2, all in the mode of isolation for 14 days. The traceability goes with transparency. One example of this can be observed in the case of patient number 21, who is a high-ranking Communist Party manager. Given his position in the Communist Party’s thinktank, his daily activities would have been kept confidential. However, there is no exception. People were made aware of the details of his movements, and quickly the places visited by him were closed, those met by him have been quarantined. The case of patient 21 is a test for transparency of the war against Covid-19, and the Ministry of Health has passed the test. 

Third, the community ensures the fact-checking and reputation protection of its members. Since many activities and relationship of the patients are revealed in public eyes, they and their F-people sometimes become victims of the viral name and shame behaviors, and even of the intentional fake news. To tackle the falsehood about Covid-19 pandemic and patients, some community-based initiatives emerged, for example, the fake-news countering groupthe science information about Covid-19 Page, and so on. During this war-like-time, while limiting many material needs, the Vietnamese society does not compromise its standards for peace and mental wellness. 

The National Board of Command against Covid-19 pandemic has raised inspirational mottos like, “Chong dich nhu chong giac” (Pandemic fighting is foe fighting), and “Moi nguoi dan la mot chien si” (Every citizen is a soldier). Again, Vietnam is on the wartime mode, this time against the Covid-19 pandemic. A collectivist culture, once again, like a north-star, leads the society throughout this hardship. This is how Vietnam gears its culture as a weapon in this war. 

*** The author is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, Vietnam ***