Granger Whitelaw Is back with The Lotus Talks after a 3-month Hiatus. Today he speaks with Dr. Mason Cobb on the return of COVID-19 In Vietnam, what the current facts are with the Disease – and what Individuals and Employers can do to help stop the Spread In Vietnam again – and get back to work. This Is a Serious Issue we all need to come together on – so please listen and think about how you can help.
Go! Listen and subscribe to our podcast at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or elsewhere. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. Listen to the full episode at the link here:
Welcome to Lotus talks. Let me introduce myself. I’m Granger Whitelaw CEO of the Vietnam group. And I host loaders talks. The lotus talks is a show where we talk about the people and the companies that are making a difference in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, or doing good while doing well. As I like to say, it’s the golden age here and there are many exciting things happening. I hope to bring as much to you as possible. So get your coffee, sit back and relax, and let’s go.
Granger Whitelaw: Hi its, Granger Whitelaw. Thanks for listening. It’s been a few months since our last podcast. Many people ask me why, why I stopped podcasting. Well, simply with the lockdown here in Vietnam, the massive news coverage everywhere, a couple of that with a severe slowdown in business… and we’re a business podcast. I just wanted to stop, listen, and wait and see. Well, there’s been a lot going on over the last couple of months and now COVID is back in Vietnam. And I want to talk about it. I want to talk about to refresh all our memories and talk about what we can do to move ahead. We don’t want businesses to stop, but we don’t want a disaster on our hands either. So we must tread carefully. Today I have a special guest to help us understand this disease, where we are, and how we can move ahead.
Granger Whitelaw: So turn your speakers up, grab a cup of coffee and please join me today – and Dr. Mason Cobb. Mason, thanks for joining me today on the Lotus talks.
Mason Cobb: My pleasure. Good to hear your voice granger.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah, that’s great to hear your voice and it’s good to see you. I can see you on our, our little video camera. I’m using some new software, so hopefully, it will be enjoyable for the listeners and clear, it also transcribes automatically. So I’m interested to see how it works in a live interview.
MASON COBB Oh, that’s powerful software.
GRANGER WHITELAW: Yeah, it’s really cool. Let’s hope it works. So Dr. Mason cob is the Chairman of Victoria healthcare. he’s also the chairman of the AmCham Healthcare committee for, what part of that are you?
MASON COBB: Providers, providers, hospitals, clinics, and individual doctors.
GRANGER WHITELAW: Okay. And you write a weekly update for AmCham as well on COVID. And you’ve been doing that for about 90 days now, right?
MASON COBB: Yes. Something like that from the time of the lockdown, at least.
GRANGER WHITELAW: Yeah. That’s been very helpful. Being a member of AmCham myself. It’s been very helpful to me and many others. So thank you for doing that.
MASON COBB: Oh, I’m glad. Glad someone is Looking at it.
Granger Whitelaw: Don’t be humble. We all read it.
Mason Cobb: Well, we try to catch up on the latest developments and I must say that this week we were changing something about every five minutes.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah. I bet we’ll get to that. and Dr. Cobb, you’ve been a resident of Vietnam for over 20, 25 years now.
MASON COBB: 23 years.
Granger Whitelaw: 23 years. Yeah. Wow. What a great country. What amazing things you’ve seen happen and now craziness here, right?
Mason Cobb: Yeah. It’s craziness, but it’s controlled craziness in ways that maybe 23 years ago would have been difficult.
Granger Whitelaw: Right Well, the Government’s done a great job. We must all say that.
Mason Cobb: Yes, that’s for sure.
Granger Whitelaw: So, I have a couple of things I want to talk about, with you, first where we were and, where we are now. it’s interesting. I was reading an article today, Mason, which was written on January 22nd in the Vietnam insider. And it was talking about this, this mysterious virus, this caused the international outbreak. “last week two Chinese visitors from Wu Han city put in isolation” – and this outbreak of coronavirus and China has killed nine people and sickened 300. It has spread to five countries. Now listen – that spread to five countries that was January 22nd. That was reported. Now they were talking about what is coronavirus back then. And, and they were talking about the spikes that protrude from the membranes, and it looks like the sun’s Corona. Right. And how do you get infected? Well, you can get infected through animals in close contact with animals.
Granger Whitelaw: And how do I know I’m sick? Well, you know, you’re sick cause you have a high fever, difficulty breathing, milder cases resemble the flu. So I’m just telling you exactly what the article said January 22nd. Right – If you read through this article, and you look at the source of the outbreak being, you know, live animal, was probably where it came from and they’re saying, listen, don’t go near live animals – the places that you buy them, the animal markets – wash your hands and don’t go around anyone that coughs or sneezes. And that was pretty much the recommendation back then.
GRANGER WHITELAW: So that’s where we were January 22nd coronavirus came. We knew it in Vietnam, Vietnam, the prime minister immediately put out, can’t remember what they’re called, but a directive to, stop the airports from bringing, foreign nationals or non–foreign nationals. and we went on this, immediate, defensive and they used old SARS protocol for that, which I understand. And literally, after our lockdown in March, it pretty much stopped here.
Mason Cobb: Yes. There’s no question that the government reacted very forcefully, very proactively, and very effectively. However, the other thing is that they had, I think by one survey, 89% of the people backing exactly what they were doing. People accepted the lockdown, they accepted the economic damage It was doing, the damage to personal lives, all in order to control the pandemic. And that was in March that March. And I think part of April, but anyway, it was tremendously effective. And I think after that, we just didn’t see cases that were community-based. They all came in from the outside and were carefully controlled. I think we were living in a bubble. We thought that even though the rest of the world was on fire with this thing, that we were in a safe pocket, I think maybe we let our guard down a little bit. And I guess the question is, can we get our guard back up now that there’s a threat again.
Granger Whitelaw: Sure. So where we were is we went through this initial, kind of, I guess you call it a first wave. Although it was very small, we only have 300 something, 340 cases or something. And, and we had about 117 days in Saigon without a community spread – a hundred, I think exactly a hundred before the new Da Nang spread. So, since the disease re-surfaced among the community last Saturday Da Nang has recorded an additional 104 cases. It’s now the pandemic’s largest epicenter of Vietnam. Quang Nam has reported 26 cases, Ho Chi Minh 8, Hanoi, and Quang Ngai, 2 teach. Thai Binh & Dak Lak 1 each, and those are all linked to Da Nang, right? Yes. So we’re at 590 cases or there are about 212 of them active. over 94,000 people are in quarantine and we’ve had three people pass away, unfortunately
Mason Cobb: 5. Now, is it five
Granger Whitelaw: Oh the 2 ladies today,
Mason Cobb: there were two ladies in there that, passed
Granger Whitelaw: Octogenarian’s that’s right. Yeah.
Granger Whitelaw: Gosh, I remember a couple of days ago and I saw that first headline that someone had passed away. I literally, my, my heart stopped. I felt horrible, sad.
Mason Cobb: I felt the same way. And there was really a mix of emotions. I think, one was in a way of sadness for the public health officials who had tried so hard, to prevent any kind of death, so bad for the people of Vietnam who had been so compliant to prevent deaths and also an element of fear. It’s like cocaine, maybe we get sick, but now we have the distinct possibility in this country of dying from this pandemic. Sure.
Granger Whitelaw: Well that goes back to what you said before we living in a little bit of a bubble, right. You know, people are dying all over the place. I’ve lost, well Bob Lazier, who, whose son, Buddy, and I raced Indy Car together. And buddy and I won the Indy 500 in 1996. His father passed away about two months ago. he had a chest cold kind of walking pneumonia in December Vail. And I guess the general manager got COVID and Bob got it. And after self-induced coma, et cetera, he came out and then all of a sudden he just died. And, Oh, that was so hard for me. Bob was like a father to me and it’s very real, you know, people are dying and we haven’t seen that in Vietnam. And that does give you that sense of, “Oh, maybe, you know, maybe it’s our diet here”. “Maybe there’s a gene that Vietnamese”, all these different things you hear, right Yes. But you know, now there’s reality. Five people have been lost to this disease and Vietnam and it’s tragic. It’s scary. It’s real.
Mason Cobb: I think that absolutely. So it’s really bringing it home now at the same time, just going around the streets and even the people that I know and observe, I don’t think we’ve really taken this as seriously as we might. It’s strange that in one sense, it’s very immediate because of the deaths and not knowing what’s going to happen after the outbreak in the central and the other is we’re still living a little bit of the bubble lifestyle then.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah. Well, you know, me and I think people kind of, I don’t know what they say about me, but I have certainly been, if not the most, one of the most serious people about wearing masks, not going to these events inside. I have been very vocal about it. obviously I’ve stayed inside a majority of the time. I didn’t take my mask off in public, inside until an event about three weeks ago at a fashion show at, the Reverie and everyone was checked beforehand and you know, I’ve been, it’d been three months. So I thought, okay, you know, clean people, clean room, you know, I’ll risk it. You know, and, and I didn’t feel comfortable with that, but it’s scary. And I think people are much too lackadaisical about it and got scared. Got too easy about it. As you, as I always said to you, it takes one super spreader – One.
Mason Cobb: Yes that’s exactly. So, and at this point, I guess the people around Ho Chi Minh City and even Hanoi can say, well, yeah, we’ve got some cases, but they all came from Don Nang and nothing’s happening locally. And the government’s on top of this, I’m gonna scratch my nose and go out to eat. So, I think we do need to pay more attention to this.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah, well, I’m back inside. So let’s talk about this. Let’s, let’s, let’s have a real conversation. So about this disease. Okay. We thought it came from animals. We thought, watch your hands and stay away from people. Right. We all of a sudden started seeing people dying. There’s been lots of different things. Tried vaccines are in the market now getting close to being phase three or in phase three, what do we know about this disease now Dr. Cobb? What do we know about it And, I see death rates going down. So there are some things that can treat it. Can you share that with the listeners?
Mason Cobb: Yes, I can’t. My career goes back at least 40 years. And I can’t remember a time when there’s been such rapid progress in understanding something and learning to react to it. That’s the good news. We know a lot more about this disease and we did, as you say on January 22nd, however, what we’re in is we’re in a race to the wire with a tremendously sophisticated virus. if I were a virus, I’d want to be Corona, it’s smart, it’s quick. And we know that it’s already mutated. In fact, all we people in Asia, as you say, we were patting ourselves on the back because we were so good. And then suddenly Italy explodes, Spain explodes. And then the United States and Brazil explode. But one of the factors in that other than problems of compliance in those countries is that the virus actually mutated somewhere between, Hong Kong and Italy.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah. The European strain, right
Mason Cobb: The European strain, it’s the so-called a D614-G. There was one amino acid in the RNA that changed. It made the spike protein much harder. You’re harder. You’re in much better able to penetrate cells. Some say that it’s 20 times as infectious is the string that we originally saw. The strain that we now in this country in the central is the new strain. Whether it came in through some type of illegal immigration, somebody on a plane from someplace that somehow was evaded quarantine, nobody knows. But we do know that the string we have now is more infectious than the one we beat previously.
Granger Whitelaw: So it is the European strain?
Mason Cobb: It is. I don’t, I’m not sure I would call it that. But, yes, it’s a strain that mutated somewhere along, about the time that it got to UL
Granger Whitelaw: Is scary. Now I am feeling really uneasy.
Mason Cobb: You should! On the other end. It’s the good news is that we’re much better. The doctors were totally in the dark. It was a new disease. People were sick in ways that they weren’t sure how they were sick or precisely why they were sick. That’s no better understood. We have modalities of treatment. Dexamethasone. We have some – some sophisticated biologics that fight the so-called cytokine storm. This has been so deadly. And so the chance of survival is higher. Although the five deaths do point out that older people and those with preexisting conditions are, are very, are still very vulnerable. The good news is that we also have a vaccine in the works. This, is likely to be effective and safe, but it’s not clear how long it will be effective. And the big question is how do we crank out somewhere between 5 and 8 billion doses,
Granger Whitelaw: right. how do you get it to everybody?
Granger Whitelaw: Is that the Moderna you’re talking about, or the Oxford one that you and I were talking about two months ago,
Mason Cobb: Oh, there’s, there’s three or four that are kind of in a horse race. And on any given day, this one is ahead by a nose. This one is head by ahead and who goes down,
Granger Whitelaw: WellVietnam is doing some testing of a, of a vaccine. I hear by the end of the Q4, by the end of this year, they want to find volunteers to test it here in Vietnam.
Mason Cobb: Yeah. It’s interesting. The way they would do the volunteers that brings you into some medical Ethical dilemmas. It’s one thing, the way the phase 3’s are being done in the West. And that’s you go to places where there’s a pandemic where there’s an actual active epidemic going on and you vaccinate half the people that are in your study group and the other half receive a placebo. And you see if it’s protective. The other is that the first rule of ethical medicine is “do no harm”. In this case, you would be actively giving the virus to people, actively making them sick by your own hand. And then seeing if the vaccine protects them. That is in the worst case, there would be some people in the control group who would just simply die because you gave them something that killed them. That said you do ethically get into the greater good for the greater number – That is, would deaths in your control group be far outweighed by the number of lives you could save by getting a vaccine to market much sooner?
Granger Whitelaw: Sure, sure. Yeah.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah. It’s a tough question. yeah. Tough question. What to do. Well, so medically, we have some medicine that seems to be helping if you do get sick and that’s a good thing at which brings us to kind of our new normal, right, where we’re in this new normal now, whatever that is, but it seems to be, you know, wearing masks, being very cautious, isolating if you can, certainly anybody at high risk or elderly stay at home, don’t go out. Now people were getting very casual about going to restaurants and so on and so forth. But you know, as of now they’ve closed the bars in Ho Chi Minh and non-essential, I think that’s going to happen tomorrow or later today, that will happen certainly this week that there’s going to be more tightening. And I think that’s really important because it worked before, but we don’t want to, to stop business, Certainly. So what can individuals do to prevent the spread Mason?
Mason Cobb: There are several things and they’re well known, wear a mask at all times that you’re out, especially if you’re indoors at a restaurant, the business, whatever the other is, try not to touch your face. I think that’s very hard. Your nose itches, your need to do something with your lipstick, your eyebrow twitches, whatever it is, but you should try to keep your hands away from your face.
Granger Whitelaw: So wash your hands, Don’t touch your face. Certainly. I always say this to people – DON’T GO INSIDE! Why would you ever go inside anywhere that has circulating air? If you have to go out, stay outside, be somewhere where there’s open doors and you have fresh air circulating because you do not want to be in a place where air is circulating. This is an aerosol, it’s an airborne disease.
Mason Cobb: Absolutely. Right. the other part of that is that is that we understand it better. Now. That’s one of those things that we’ve learned along the way and indoors is a total crapshoot. Maybe this restaurant cleans it’s Vents, has excellent. Air-con / good fans. And the next place you go is basically blowing out the virus itself.
Granger Whitelaw: It lasts what 3 hours they say in the air now,
Mason Cobb: Inside something like that. But there again, it depends on humidity. It depends on the force severe that’s behind it. There there’s a lot of variables, but if you’re inside and the ventilation is not absolutely top-notch, you’re at more risk than you are if your outside..
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah. It’s to even ventilation, you have HEPA filters or UV that circulates through and kills the bacteria – in Vietnam you don’t have that. So even in the airplanes, they say you know, Oh yeah, the HEPA filters as well. No, not really. I mean, if you really know, you know, if they’re operational and if they’re clean and if they have them sure. It gives you a smaller percentage, but they circulate every three or five minutes if they work. And, that’s a closed space. All right. Well, so what can businesses do..
Mason Cobb: Let me go through a couple more of the precautions. One is the social distancing. And, I was reading about a place in California that has 20 times the number of cows as people. And they say you should have the distance of one cow between you and other humans. And, I guess we would call it two meters here. If it doesn’t get lost in the translation,
Granger Whitelaw: I guess in India you’re okay.
Mason Cobb: How’s the difference between yeah. And works in India too. So anyway, keep one cows distance between you and, the stranger that you’re walking near, and the other. And this is something that I don’t think people are doing completely. And that’s, if you feel ill at all, stay home. even if you get up after a good night’s sleep, but you’re unusually tired and exhausted, stay home. You have a runny nose, stay home, a new cough, stay home for heaven’s sake. If you have a fever, definitely stay home. The hallmark symptom, as it turns out also is loss of taste and smell. And if you get up for that morning cup of coffee and you can’t smell it, stay home. And while you’re staying home, although you may not want to do it, let the government know, let them know so they can test you. And if necessary quarantine, you and I don’t see very many people running around and putting their hand up in the air to volunteer for quarantine here. But it’s the responsible and the safe thing to do, might even protect your family. Right
Granger Whitelaw: Well, there’s, like I said, 94,000 people are more important to you right now. In other words are self-quarantine at home. So quarantine doesn’t mean you’re going to a government facility, but if you’re at home and you’re sick, they’ll probably have you stay home and monitor you. And, and if you get worse than they’ll bring you into the hospital. So, yeah, definitely, definitely, communicate with your doctor and, and then fill out your medical form via the Department of Health. Yeah. So that, that brings me to the question, what can businesses do to help their employees, and, and what do you do at right If you’re employing and you want to make money and you want to contribute, but, but how do you be a good employee How do you be a good brother and sister to your coworkers?
Mason Cobb: Mmm.
Granger Whitelaw: It’s a tough question, right Because you don’t want to shut the business down.
Mason Cobb: A system, right It’s a much tougher question than it than it seems. And again, there’s a new normal, it used to be, you go to work, you see somebody that you haven’t seen over the weekend. You give them a big hug. Hey, how you doing you don’t have a mask on, well, now that changes, don’t hug them at most touch elbows or something.
Granger Whitelaw: Yes, and think responsibly, right Like I think a lot of this is like, think responsibly. If you went out that weekend, you went to a bar you weren’t supposed to. Because I was out last night to grab some food from the grocery store and I drove down the bike. So I didn’t come into contact with anybody. I had my mask on and I couldn’t believe the bars I saw open. Like, how are these bars open on a Saturday night? When there’s a quarantine – when the government just said close the bars, right Like I don’t want to be a jerk or something here. But if you went to one of those bars and you could have been around somebody who wasn’t Da Nang, then don’t go to work or tell your employer and be responsible. Right. And make sure you wear your mask in the office. It may be uncomfortable, but I’m sure if you talk to your employer, they’ll stagger you. Right. But let you work from home for a couple of days. And a lot of offices, I know Fred at Baker McKenzie, they kind of have half staff, you know, one week, half staff the other week or they’re shifting around. And I knew other, other companies are doing that too. So just pointing him out because he’s a good example of doing it the right way.
Mason Cobb: Right. You stay at home is have as many of your employees work from home as possible, in the workplace, you may need to figure out spacing. So people are not, sitting right next to each other. So you’re having a little more distancing. They need to be wearing their masks the whole time at work and 8 straight hours or 10 straight hours in a mask is, is tough.
Granger Whitelaw: Give People breaks, provide masks, provide hand sanitizer. Listen, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably a business owner or an executive most likely. So provide this, be proactive, and communicate with your employees, communicate with your staff, tell them what’s going on. Don’t avoid this conversation. It’s a hard conversation but have it – right. And, and don’t let them feel like if they stay home, they’re going to be penalized. Right And, Oh, well, my grandma was not feeling great. And I know her brother wasn’t denying that. So he, but I still want to go to work. Cause I don’t want to get fired by my boss. Well, bosses, right You want to lose your whole, your whole company then, you know, let fear prevail. And the best way to alleviate fear is communication.
Mason Cobb: And just like that Japanese, Director of a company in the North when he turned positive, the entire staff was quarantined. So if you’re not careful at your place, I’m sorry. As a doctor, my business is to scare the pants off you if I possibly can. But, that’s part of the way it is. If one person in your office comes stone with COVID possibly because you’re not, following these recommendations, they’re going to shut you down. Right. And so it’s, it’s good to be compliant,
Granger Whitelaw: Right. And then there’s the F one, two, three, four or five, right So if you came in direct contact or, or confirmed executives F zero, your contact is an F one for people who don’t know if anyone needs this, this contact info to Lotus talks or Lotus magazine, I’ll certainly get it to you. you have to, or people who contacted an F one, F three people who contacted F to F four or five, so on and so forth. So it goes down, but really zero one, two, and into F three, you gotta be really careful. And I would say, stay home. don’t risk it. Why risk it I’m sure that the new employees or your boss will be okay with you staying home. because right now I think, you know, the faster we act, the faster we can get back to work and continue the opportunity to Vietnam has to be a leader in Southeast Asia and the world.
Mason Cobb: Yes, absolutely. And there again, it does take employers and employees being responsible. And again, this new strain that’s here. It is extremely contagious, right they, in an epidemic we talk an are not, that means that if you have the disease, you can spread it to know people and are one means that on average, every person with it spreads it to one other person in order for anything not to be an epidemic, it needs to be at least slightly less than our one in order for the epidemic to, to burn itself out right now, this new strain is probably something like an And, that becomes exponential. That is one person, statistically will infect three. Those three will infect three, equaling nine. those nine will infect, not a total of 81. And so on. This is a bad actor. So if you’re an F one F two or F three, or you have symptoms, you’re doing your country and your place of business, a favor by staying home.
Granger Whitelaw: Well, thanks, Mason. I want to say thanks. Right. And you just, it just is terrifying me now. I had no idea that it was that contagious, that was going on, but I thank you for being transparent and open with this all.
Mason Cobb: well thank you, for asking me to come aboard. I, I hope it’s helpful and I hope the information is useful for people so we can beat this second wave. Okay. Yeah, let’s beat it.
Granger Whitelaw: We had a 1.8, 9% growth rate so far this year. I think we can have a positive growth rate in 2020 if everyone cooperates with the government and thinks about your brother and your neighbor, your sister, not just yourself. stay home shelter in place. If you can communicate with your employers wear your masks – do,= what Mason says,. ” What would Mason do ?” right. and, and, be conscientious everybody. This is not a joke. This is not a joke. This is real. And we are in the, in the very beginning of something that can be, terrible for Vietnam and for all of us – or that we can all collectively beat together. We got to come together and beat it.
Mason Cobb: That’s absolutely right. Let’s come together and beat this thing!
Granger Whitelaw: Alright, thanks, Mason. I appreciate your time. And I hope you have a beautiful day and, and I’ll thank you for agreeing to listen.
Mason Cobb: Thank you, Granger, Same with you and stay safe. Thank you. Bye-bye.
Granger Whitelaw: Goodbye.
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