Vietnam Update: 13 August

Vietnam is continuing to battle major Covid-19 outbreaks throughout the country and unfortunately this past week has not seen any major breakthrough in curbing the situation. The good news, however, is that the vaccination drive is pushing ahead at full speed and the situation in Ho Chi Minh City, the epicentre, appears to be stabilizing. The following is Access Asia Group’s latest update on the Covid-19 situation in collaboration with Vietnam Weekly, a subscription-based publication covering current affairs in Vietnam.

The latest data

At the start of the week, 206,439 cases had been detected in this outbreak. That figure is now 242,552, 152,561 of which are active. The death toll continues to rise substantially, from 3,397 on Sunday night to 4,813. There are 499 ICU patients, and 21 on ECMO treatment.

After recording over 9,000 cases both Sunday and Monday, the national infection figure improved for a couple of days, but climbed back to 9,653 yesterday (just 21 below the record set on Sunday).

Chart from VnExpress.

Ho Chi Minh City’s numbers continue to move sideways/slightly down, and according to VnExpress, the number of new infections here over the last 14 days has fallen by 12% compared to the previous two weeks. This is excellent news.

Chart from VnExpress. HCMC has logged 137,008 cases in this outbreak.

Vaccinations are moving along well, though heavily concentrated in a few areas. According to the Ministry of Health’s vaccine portal, 1,435,212 doses were administered nationally on Monday, a massive record. 12,202,676 total injections have now taken place, with 57% of HCMC residents over the age of 18 now with at least one shot. (District 11 hit 94% yesterday, the highest of any district.)

This is by far the highest amount of any locality, and the national average is only around 13%. Officials have said that the country could hit 2 million shots per day in the future, given enough supply.

Healthcare system in HCMC under strain      

 While case numbers in HCMC show a level of stabilizing (meaning totals aren’t increasing), the number of new cases is still outpacing recoveries, leaving the medical system here under immense strain.

For weeks, the health sector has been pursuing a ‘five-floor’ treatment model, in which the top floor treats severe/critical Covid patients, while patients in better condition are handled by lower ‘floors.’

This model is now at its limit, with reports that multiple field hospitals have run out of room for more patients, while doctors at the 500-bed COVID-19 Resuscitation Hospital in Thu Duc City are actually treating 600 patients, with plans to expand that facility to 1,000 beds.

Some COVID-19 patients with worsening symptoms have been stuck at home, unable to get an ambulance to the hospital, while others have been taken to hospitals that can’t admit them because there are lines out the door.

The ‘third floor’ and intensive care levels are under particular stress, while there have been issues transferring patients to the correct ‘floor’ between field hospitals, district-level hospitals, and major top-tier hospitals.

To help address an ambulance shortage, 500 taxis and other cars have been called into service. Mai Linh taxis, for example, are being deployed with medical students and members of the HCMC Youth Union who have undergone basic medical training and can use gear like oxygen tanks and rapid testing machines.

HCMC, along with nearby Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc, Long An and Ba Ria-Vung Tau, have all asked the Ministry of Health for more personnel to help fight their outbreaks, but there are basically no reinforcements left, and many doctors, nurses and medical students have been working non-stop for weeks (or months).

As a result, the Ministry of National Defense may send medical personnel, and it is also expanding its medical facilities in HCMC (which are separate from the health ministry’s purview).

Amid all of this, earlier in the week the central government issued a resolution setting September 15 as the target for HCMC getting its outbreak under control. The date for Binh Duong, Long An and Dong Nai is September 1, and August 25 for the remaining southern provinces.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long warned of a prolonged pandemic, especially in the south, something that Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam also mentioned this week. Frankly, this seems like the more likely situation.

Economy under pressure, but fundamentals remain strong

While it is still too early to tell the full impact that this fourth wave is having on the economy, economic activity and output has been severely dented due to the country’s strict containment measures and it is difficult to see how Q3 growth will be positive. Factories and industrial zones in the southern region, as well as seafood sector, have been particularly hit hard, while domestic purchasing power and exports have decreased remarkably. The shuttering of numerous factories are affecting global supply chains and causing sourcing challenges. Yet these are all short-term challenges; the macroeconomy is remarkably stable, inflation is under control, and foreign investors remain upbeat on Vietnam. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows still rose by 3.8 percent year-on-year to US$10.5 billion in the first seven months of 2021, led by processing and manufacturing. In short, Vietnam’s economic fundamentals remain strong and we expect a strong rebound once this fourth wave is defeated.

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