When the world looked to Asia for successful examples in handling the novel coronavirus outbreak, much attention and plaudits were paid to South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
But there's one overlooked success story -- Vietnam. The country of 97 million people has not reported a single coronavirus-related death and on Saturday had just 328 confirmed cases, despite its long border with China and the millions of Chinese visitors it receives each year.
This is all the more remarkable considering Vietnam is a low-middle income country with a much less-advanced healthcare system than others in the region. It only has 8 doctors for every 10,000 people, a third of the ratio in South Korea, according to the World Bank.
After a three-week nationwide lockdown, Vietnam lifted social distancing rules in late April. It hasn't reported any local infections for more than 40 days. Businesses and schools have reopened, and life is gradually returning to normal.
Motorbike riders with face masks are stuck in traffic during the morning peak hour on May 19 in Hanoi.
To skeptics, Vietnam's official numbers may seem too good to be true. But Guy Thwaites, an infectious disease doctor who works in one of the main hospitals designated by the Vietnamese government to treat Covid-19 patients, said the numbers matched the reality on the ground.
"I go to the wards every day, I know the cases, I know there has been no death," said Thwaites, who also heads the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City.
"If you had unreported or uncontrolled community transmission, then we'll be seeing cases in our hospital, people coming in with chest infections perhaps not diagnosed -- that has never happened," he said.
So how has Vietnam seemingly bucked the global trend and largely escaped the scourge of the coronavirus? The answer, according to public health experts, lies in a combination of factors, from the government's swift, early response to prevent its spread, to rigorous contact-tracing and quarantining and effective public communication.
Vietnam started preparing for a coronavirus outbreak weeks before its first case was detected.
At the time, the Chinese authorities and the World Health Organization had both maintained that there was no "clear evidence'' for human-to-human transmission. But Vietnam was not taking any chances.
"We were not only waiting for guidelines from the WHO. We used the data we gathered from outside and inside (the country to) decide to take action early," said Pham Quang Thai, deputy head of the Infection Control Department at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Hanoi.
A woman practices social distancing while shopping for groceries from behind a line at a wet market in Hanoi.
By early January, temperature screening was already in place for passengers arriving from Wuhan at Hanoi's international airport. Travelers found with fever were isolated and closely monitored, the country's national broadcaster reported at the time.
By mid-January, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam was ordering government agencies to take "drastic measures" to prevent the disease from spreading into Vietnam, strengthening medical quarantine at border gates, airports and seaports.
On January 23, Vietnam confirmed its first two coronavirus cases -- a Chinese national living in Vietnam and his father, who had traveled from Wuhan to visit his son. The next day, Vietnam's aviation authorities canceled all flights to and from Wuhan.
As the country celebrated the Lunar New Year holiday, it's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc declared war on the coronavirus. "Fighting this epidemic is like fighting the enemy," he said at an urgent Communist Party meeting on January 27. Three days later, he set up a national steering committee on controlling the outbreak -- the same day the WHO declared the coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern.
On February 1, Vietnam declared a national epidemic -- with just six confirmed cases recorded across the country. All flights between Vietnam and China were halted, followed by the suspension of visas to Chinese citizens the next day.
Over the course of the month, the travel restrictions, arrival quarantines, and visa suspensions expanded in scope as the coronavirus spread beyond China to countries like South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Vietnam eventually suspended entry to all foreigners in late March.
A Vietnamese People's Army officer stands next to a sign warning about the lockdown on the Son Loi commune in Vinh Phuc province on February 20.
Vietnam was also quick to take proactive lockdown measures. On February 12, it locked down an entire rural community of 10,000 people north of Hanoi for 20 days over seven coronavirus cases -- the first large-scale lockdown known outside China. Schools and universities, which had been scheduled to reopen in February after the Lunar New Year holiday, were ordered to remain closed, and only reopened in May.
Thwaites, the infectious disease expert in Ho Chi Minh City, said the speed of Vietnam's response was the main reason behind its success.
"Their actions in late January and early February were very much in advance of many other countries. And that was enormously helpful ... for them to be able to retain control," he said.
Over the course of the month, the travel restrictions, arrival quarantines and visa suspensions expanded in scope as the coronavirus spread beyond China to countries like South Korea, Iran and Italy. Vietnam eventually suspended entry to all foreigners in late March.