Businessman Phan Quoc Viet was making his usual prayers at a pagoda in Tay Ninh, a province in southern Vietnam, when the government official’s call came.
It was late January, just after the Lunar New Year. Vietnam had detected its first two cases of the new coronavirus days earlier, and the government was contacting companies with experience of medical testing for urgent help.
“The official said Vietnam needed to act quickly,” said Viet, whose medical equipment company, Viet A Corp, makes test kits and has been central to Vietnam ramping up its testing programme in response to the outbreak.
Vietnam, a country of 96 million people which shares a border with China, is signalling that it has succeeded where many wealthier and more developed countries have not by containing the new coronavirus.
The government is officially reporting a relatively small 270 cases and zero deaths. That puts the country on course to revive its economy much sooner than most others, according to several public health experts interviewed by Reuters.
Its slightly more populous regional neighbour the Philippines, in comparison, has reported almost 30 times as many cases and more than 500 deaths.
These public health experts say Vietnam was successful because it made early, decisive moves to restrict travel into the country, put tens of thousands of people into quarantine and quickly scaled up the use of tests and a system to track down people who might have been exposed to the virus.