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Coronavirus Turns Vietnam from Recipient to Donor

By VOA News April 08, 2020

China is not the only nation coming to the aid of others in the fight against COVID-19.

In business attire and surgical masks, five European ambassadors stood on a stage in Hanoi on Tuesday and greeted Vietnamese officials who announced they were donating face masks to Europe.

Besides donating 500,000 masks, Vietnam has sent medical aid to China, Cambodia and Laos in recent weeks.

Hanoi is now in talks with the United States to supply it with protective equipment.

Vietnam continues to try to control COVID-19 domestically, but the virus has also marked a moment for the communist nation to make overtures abroad. Upending tradition, Vietnam, which historically has been an aid recipient, is showing that it can also be a contributor.

"Thanks to our Vietnamese friends for their support," Petra Sigmund, director general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Office of Germany, said on Twitter. "We should stay united in solidarity and continue to join hands to fight against the coronavirus."

In another post, she shared a photo of herself in a colorful mask thanking Vietnam for its generosity in donating masks to Germany.

As hospitals across the United States face big shortfalls in masks and medical equipment, the U.S. Agency for International Development is asking Vietnamese firms what supplies they can manufacture.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said it created an "air bridge" to quickly get medical supplies exported from Vietnam, in addition to nations such as Thailand, India and Honduras.

The Vietnam Embassy in Washington said it created a direct channel of communication to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"This is a very good opportunity for Vietnamese businesses to export personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to European and American markets," Nhan Dan, the official newspaper for the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, said in a web post. The newspaper called on domestic firms to manufacture supplies for export.

The post noted that one opportunity is in California, which is asking for 500 million pairs of N95 breathing masks, 10 million goggles and 1 billion pairs of gloves.

While Vietnam is a developing nation with an economy smaller than that of California, a combination of factors allows it to fill some holes created by the COVID-19 emergency.

Vietnam responded early to the emergency, keeping its reported numbers of infections under 300 cases as of Wednesday, and giving it the relative stability to aid others. The single-party state ordered a national lockdown and mobilized resources and people, including health workers and volunteers. Last week, it asked firms to increase mask production to 5 million a day.

Besides having a history of citizens wearing masks daily, Vietnam has an export-based economy dominated by manufacturing. Those factories give it a base to switch to making medical supplies in times of emergency.

Vietnam's biggest conglomerate is starting to make ventilators and thermometers for the first time, for instance.

"Vingroup has an advantage of having both an automobile factory and an electronics factory, which enable us to manufacture both large and mechanical parts, as well as rare and smaller parts at the same time such as electronic boards," said Le Thi Thu Thuy, vice chairwoman of Vingroup.

One of her colleagues said the medical equipment will be sent overseas in the future, though the firm will start by selling it to the Ministry of Health at cost until domestic demand is met.

Vingroup CEO Nguyen Viet Quang said the firm will start with 5,000 ventilators delivered to the Ministry starting next week and hopes to be producing tens of thousands of ventilators a month.

He said the firm "can support other manufacturers around the world by processing equipment for them or providing part of the demand."

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