Vietnam Update: August 30

As we end the month of August, Vietnam has now gone four months of an uphill battle against its fourth wave of Covid cases, a battle that due to strict containment measures has shuttered the economy, disrupted supply chains and of course uprooted people’s livelihoods. Unfortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel is still not appearing as covid cases continue to rise. Yet, we are hopeful that we are either at or very near the peak and that numbers will begin a steady downturn, restrictions steadily eased, and a sense of normalcy can return. One thing is certain – such strict containment measures cannot be deployed indefinitely and there will come a point when the economic and social consequences will be much greater than the Covid-19 health risk. Here is Access Asia’s Monday update on the situation in Vietnam in collaboration with Vietnam Weekly, a subscription-based publication covering current affairs in Vietnam.

Data update

Over the weekend, Vietnam hit two more significant numbers thanks to this outbreak: more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases, and more than 10,000 deaths. (Just a reminder to put what has happened since early May into context: prior to this, Vietnam had recorded under 4,000 infections and 35 deaths between January 2020 to April 2021 ). Moreover, life was relatively normal and the economy was among the best performers in the world. This has all changed.

To be specific, this outbreak has now accounted for 431,073 cases, up from 392,885 on Friday morning. 204,717 are active. Over 10,000 infections have been recorded every day since the 21st. (Some days have confusing totals when cases are belatedly added from a previous day.) The death toll is 10,749, with Ho Chi Minh City accounting for over 8,000 of those.

As of yesterday morning, the city had 2,739 patients on a ventilator and 20 on ECMO treatment.

Daily recovery figures are also high, around 8,000-10,000 per day, sometimes more.

HCMC and Binh Duong are taking turns as the locality with the most daily cases by regularly reporting over 4-5,4000 infections. Hanoi, meanwhile, reported its most cases in almost month -133 – yesterday.

Vaccinations remain at a relative trickle, and are simply not keeping up with the scale of this outbreak.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health held a seven-hour meeting to consider emergency authorization for Nanocovax, Vietnam’s first domestic COVID-19 vaccine. In the end, the ministry asked for more data from Nanogen, the vaccine’s producer. This is fairly surprising, as top government leaders have been calling for quick approval – we’ll have to wait and see how significant this setback is. While no detailed data on the vaccine is publicly available, Nanogen has claimed that it has 90% efficacy against COVID-19.

HCMC’s super lock-down – how much longer?

In Ho Chi Minh City – the current epicentre – the city’s super-lockdown is scheduled to end next Monday, but that remains to be seen. If it is extended, further adjustments will surely need to be made.

It’s hard to guess what the chances of an extension are at the moment. Officials have given daily updates on ongoing rapid testing in ‘red’ and ‘orange’ zones, with 1.6 million test samples returning about 64,300 cases, a positivity rate of 3.8%.

Going by WHO guidelines, this indicates sufficient testing, and officials have said these are manageable numbers, but it’s not clear what kind of testing is going on in ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ zones, and we’re also just getting to the point where last weekend’s widespread panic buying could start to show up in testing (see our update on this here).

And, even if the military-supported lockdown does end in a week, the city is officially under general Directive 16 until September 15.

Looking ahead

HCMC and neighbouring Binh Duong remain the biggest problem spots. Another 1,000 soldiers have been sent to HCMC, bringing troop numbers up to about 10,000, while Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has told Binh Duong to consider moving residents of high-risk areas into military facilities.

Nearby Dong Nai is also struggling, and leaders there have said that extensive social distancing will strain their resources – a problem throughout southern provinces.

Binh Duong’s government-set headline for getting the outbreak ‘under control’ is September 15, just like HCMC, but that is honestly hard to envision, especially as vaccinations remain slow.

While 85% of registered adults in HCMC (we don’t know how many migrants there are) have received at least one vaccine dose, that figure is just 42% in Binh Duong and 32% in Dong Nai.

For more on Binh Duong, read this feature from friend-of-the-letter Sen Nguyen.

Elsewhere in the country, China has shut one of its border gates with Vietnam over Covid concerns, while a district in Da Nang is trying out the use of drones to monitor social distancing compliance in small alleys and side streets. That city is under a shelter-in-place lockdown until September 6.

On the economic level, this current fourth wave has certainly muddied the waters of the country’s economic health for the rest of this year. A recent World Bank report forecast that Vietnam’s GDP is still expected to grow by 4.8 percent in 2021 – certainly welcoming news yet we believe attaining this rate will be unlikely (it is difficult to see how Q3 growth will be positive at this point). Yet, economic fundamentals remain strong, inflation is under control, and foreign investors remain upbeat on Vietnam. In fact, newly-registered FDI in the first eight months of 2021 soared by 16.3 percent – investment led by Singapore.

As with our last update, we will end this update on an upbeat note with a quote from the World Bank’s acting director in Vietnam, Rahul Kitchlu:

“Whether Vietnam’s economy will rebound in the second half of 2021 will depend on the control of the current outbreak, the vaccine rollouts, and the efficiency of the fiscal measures to support affected business and households and stimulate the recovery… While downside risks have heightened, economic fundamentals remain solid in the country, and the economy could converge towards pre-pandemic GDP-growth rate of 6.5-7 per cent from 2022 onwards.”

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Despite Vietnam’s lock-down and restrictions of movement, Access Asia Group remains open for business in Vietnam. Our team here is still able to work remotely and diligently. Should you have any queries, please contact us at