Border guards patrol the borderline in the northern province of Điện Biên. — VNA/VNS Photo
Since the first cases were reported back in February, Việt Nam has done a tremendous job in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, evidenced by global lows in both case count and deaths, as well as a heightened sense of normalcy among the population. The feat has been, in large part, thanks to exceptional and timely government measures, including a nationwide lockdown order, which lasted several months, and the sealing of borders. However, if Việt Nam wishes to remain a global leader in pandemic containment, it must turn its attention to and address threats from the outside world.
On July 25, Việt Nam confirmed the continuation of community transmission of COVID-19 in Da Nang, a tourism hotspot. In addition to putting an end to the country’s impressive 99-day streak without a case in the community, the resurfacing of the coronavirus drew the public eye towards a far more pressing issue: illegal immigration. That same day, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc ordered an investigation into a network that helped foreigners, particularly Chinese tourists, circumvent stringent border security measures and the fourteen-day quarantine requirement for entry. “We must prosecute all cases of illegal entry,” he said, “especially networks that aim to bring foreigners into Việt Nam."
The logic behind these new cases is simple, yet unnerving. There hasn’t been a community case for ninety-nine days, and viruses cannot appear out of nowhere. Therefore, the most probable conclusion is that an infected individual had somehow been able to gain entry into the country, leading to the continuation of community transmission. Armed with this information, local and national authorities have since thwarted a number of human trafficking rings that aimed to smuggle Chinese tourists into popular destinations such as Nha Trang, Phú Quốc, and Đà Nẵng, and even beyond to Cambodia.
These recent developments have placed the spotlight upon the inadequate enforcement of the China-Vietnamese border, but this is far from a new problem. Since 2007, The Vietnamese government estimates that 90 per cent of Vietnamese trafficking victims are trafficked into China, and 80 per cent are sexually exploited. It is highly probable that the very groups responsible for these human trafficking operations are now operating to smuggle foreigners into Việt Nam during the pandemic, using their prior established knowledge of the inadequacies with border security. The demand comes chiefly north of the border, where there is always a steady supply of illegal economic migrants and workers. The timing of the second wave also corresponds to the peak summer travel season. Việt Nam, with its exceptional handling of the pandemic thus far and attractive tourist destinations, becomes a tempting destination for those looking to unwind amidst the pandemic. It is for these reasons, therefore, that border security must be at the very top of Việt Nam’s plan of action against the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are a few tasks which Việt Nam has to accomplish in order to maintain stability and resilience against the pandemic in this new situation. Firstly, it has to continue its superior performance pertaining to the identification of cases and dealing with them, as well maintain a stable environment within the country. The government has done well in this regard, having established very clear guidelines and protocols in dealing with suspected and confirmed cases. All individuals returning from a high-risk area or from abroad are placed in quarantine for fourteen days, and all citizens are recommended to use phone apps to self-report potential symptoms, as well as track recorded cases. Large-scale testing has also been recently implemented. These effective measures have yielded, and will continue to yield, favourable results.
The second measure that must be taken is the continued tightening of border security. This includes both legal and illegal border crossings. Việt Nam must continue stringent screening of any and all individuals seeking to enter the country at this time, upholding its mandatory fourteen-day quarantine policy. However, the brunt of the issue lies with illicit border crossings. Any attempt to enter the country or facilitate the entrance of aliens into the country illicitly must be prosecuted in a timely manner, and contact tracing must be implemented. A bolstering of border patrol agents at this time is also necessary, as the Vietnamese border with both China and its western neighbours are not natural, but largely administratively set, which may make some regions of the border susceptible to unreported and illicit crossings, something that human and goods trafficking rings have done for a long time.
Increasing public understanding of the issue is also paramount. It is important that the public view the trafficking of foreigners into Việt Nam for profit as both immoral and a large risk to public health, as a deterrent for those individuals wishing to take part in these activities. This can be accomplished through government notices and announcements and other means of official communication. It should also be encouraged that citizens educate and supervise one another. In a society like Việt Nam’s, where neighbours are tightly-knit and word of mouth travels faster than any other form of communication, intra-community supervision has always been the most effective. This principle is officially dubbed the “Front of the People’s Will”, and places a large importance on the self-supervision and self-education of the populace in order to achieve a larger goal of national importance.
Already, there have been tangible and positive results from the implementation of these measures. After a brief sharp spike, the number of new cases has taken a dip in recent days. Although Việt Nam has begun to register fatalities due to COVID-19, most of these cases come as a result of opportunistic infections and prior medical conditions. A large number of new border security campaigns have also been launched in response to these developments, yielding immediate results. The government has also made efforts towards promoting correct public perception of the importance of combating the pandemic.
Most of us are familiar with the story of the Trojan horse. Troy fell not because the enemy was overpowering, but rather because they brought about their own demise. Thus, Việt Nam stands to suffer considerably, lest it be able to put an end to illegal border crossings, both within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. — VNS