All In: Vietnam’s War Against COVID-19, 2019 – 2020


When SARS-CoV-2 emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, Vietnam’s scientists knew their country was in grave danger. Vietnam, a country of 97 million, shared an 870-mile land border with China, its biggest trade and tourism partner. Adding to the risk posed by the virus, Vietnam was a lower-middle-income nation with limited resources and an already overtaxed health-care system. But in the years after the 2003 outbreak of SARS, a deadly respiratory ailment that traumatized East Asia, Vietnam had built a robust pandemic-preparedness system that swiftly mobilized to confront the threat of SARS-CoV-2. After Vietnam recorded its first case on January 22, 2020, the prime minister declared all-out war on the virus no matter the cost to the economy. The government moved swiftly to implement border closures, extensive contact tracing, targeted lockdowns, and a strict quarantine protocol. Relentless and creative communications based on accuracy, transparency, and timeliness built public trust and compliance with public health measures. After more than three months with no community transmission, the country experienced an outbreak in Da Nang that spread across the nation and threatened to spiral out of control. But Vietnam’s authorities carried out a massive testing, tracing, and quarantine program that halted the contagion. As of December 31, 2020, Vietnam had recorded only 1,465 cases and 35 deaths—and it had posted the highest annual GDP growth of any economy in Asia.


Gordon LaForge drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in March and April 2021. Case published June 2021.This case study was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau as part of a series on center-of-government coordination of the pandemic response.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.

public trust
crisis response
disease control
Focus Area(s)
Pandemic Response
Critical Tasks
Core Challenge
Norm coordination
Trust and legitimacy
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Gordon LaForge