On July 24, Vietnam was enjoying its 99th straight day without any known transmission of the novel coronavirus.
While the international borders remained closed to all but a handful of specific flights, life inside the country would have appeared shockingly normal to much of the world: domestic tourism was fully functioning, restaurants and bars were busy, and social distancing regulations had ended.
The following day, the Ministry of Health announced a new case of community transmission in Da Nang, a large city on the central coast.
The source of this infection remains unknown, as all new cases in the previous three months had been people arriving from abroad who were immediately quarantined for 14 days.
Wherever it came from, the outbreak spread rapidly, and within a few weeks hundreds of new cases were detected in Da Nang, largely concentrated in a cluster of hospitals, while Vietnam’s coronavirus-related death toll jumped from zero to 35.
In the ensuing days, infections were discovered in 15 other cities and provinces, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the capital and largest city, respectively.
Unlike in March, however, when Vietnam faced its first major outbreak and implemented nationwide social distancing regulations, the government decided to take a more local approach in order to avoid large-scale economic damage.
Da Nang was placed under the strictest lockdown yet seen in the country, with transport to and from the city shut down and almost all businesses ordered closed, but regions remained relatively open.
Bars, karaoke parlors and nightclubs were closed in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, while gatherings of more than 30 people were banned and masks were made mandatory in public again. However, other aspects of daily were allowed to carry on normally.
Meanwhile, massive Covid-19 testing was rolled out for anyone returning to these cities from Da Nang before its lockdown began, which included tens of thousands of people, and any new patients were isolated while rapid, detailed contact tracing was conducted.
These were the same tactics that the Vietnamese government deployed earlier in the year when the virus first broke out, and they were extremely effective.
Another important aspect was mass communication, with the Ministry of Health sending out routine text messages to all mobile phone subscribers with health and safety advice and precautions. Da Nang also carried out mass testing, though it is difficult to determine exactly how many tests were conducted, as the Ministry of Health wasn’t reporting numbers.
By the end of August, the Da Nang lockdown and aggressive testing and tracing elsewhere in the country had slowed the outbreak to a crawl, and Vietnam has now gone over three weeks without any detected community transmission, ending this wave.
Domestic travel to and from the outbreak epicenter has resumed, and businesses in other major cities have returned to normal operations. Vietnam went from 417 total cases before July 24 to 1,069 at the time of writing, according to health ministry figures, indicating the size of the Da Nang outbreak, though a number of those are imported and quarantined infections.
Only 40 cases remain active nationwide, and an air of confidence has returned to the streets. After successfully containing its first outbreak in March and April, Vietnam can now take pride in defeating the coronavirus twice.