Vietnam Update: July 30

Vietnam is continuing to see a major surge in Covid-19 cases after tremendous success in containing the virus for three waves from January 2020 to April 2021. Now, the the highly contagious Delta variant is spreading aggressively throughout the country, with the epicentre being the country’s economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City. 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.

Data update

Through the course of this week, this outbreak has grown in size from 94,666 community infections to 124,584, bringing the national pandemic total to 128,360. The death toll leapt from 370 to 863, according to VnExpress.

Nationally, the daily case total was over 7,000 for four days straight until Wednesday (6,555), but jumped up again to 7,593 yesterday. HCMC set records on Monday (5,997) and Tuesday (6,318) before seeing a decline on Wednesday (4,449) and a slight increase yesterday (4,592).

Thursday also saw the highest number of provinces record at least one case since the pandemic began – 38 out of 63. (Cao Bang is the only province to not report a single case this entire outbreak.)


The daily national infection curve. From VnExpress.

HCMC has now logged 81,781 infections in this outbreak, with a huge proportion of that figure coming in the last two weeks, while Binh Duong is at 10,684 and Long An, Dong Nai, Dong Thap and Tay Ninh are clocking triple-digit daily case totals.

1,536 of yesterday’s total cases didn’t have a clear transmission link, which is substantial.

In good news, 4,353 patients in HCMC were discharged on Wednesday, and over 2,000 more were discharged yesterday.

Vaccinations are picking up pace as well, after it was reported that HCMC in particular was barely meeting half of its daily injection goal. On Tuesday, 238,768 doses were administered nationwide, a huge increase from 99,943 on Tuesday, and a figure that rose to 262,870 on Wednesday. (Thursday’s data wasn’t available yet.)

Almost 1 million people in HCMC have received a shot, by far the most of any locality, though it’s still going to take a lot of time for the national figure to become substantial: 4.4% of the population has received one dose, and 0.5% is fully vaccinated.

Curfews & shopping vouchers

In a significant development that has been under-reported by domestic media, on Wednesday the National Assembly approved what are essentially ‘state of emergency’ powers to Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and central ministries in Hanoi to “decide and take responsibility for the implementation of a number of urgent solutions in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This means PM Chinh can make decisions for HCMC and other provinces without consulting the local government. These powers will be in effect until December 31, 2022, and according to Nikkei Asia, “These include measures that have yet to be legalized, and the government is able to skip some key steps in creation of new legal frameworks in order to fight COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, a new round of rules also came into force across numerous provinces this week.

Starting Monday, HCMC began enforcing a 6pm-6am daily curfew, with five priority groups including emergency personnel, sanitation workers, reporters (not me) and pandemic control workers exempt.

Curfews have since spread to 11 other southern provinces, while HCMC officials are expected to announce an extension of strict Directive 16 regulations today – it’s safe to assume this will be for another two weeks, but it’s not difficult to see this lasting for significantly longer than that.

The city has been under progressively tightening rules for three months now, and is still registering high daily case totals, including new infections outside of quarantine zones.

Some wards and districts have also begun distributing vouchers which allow one person per household to shop for food and essentials on a given day and within a given time period.

These vouchers are being used in Hanoi as well, and even if they don’t seem to be a requirement yet, the mere fact of having them – combined with the curfew – is an eerie sensation that’s hard to describe.

As with so many of these recent rules, the curfew has created even more problems for delivery drivers and shipping companies, who have been hammered by stringent regulations that have turned any delivery that actually takes place into a heroic effort.

On the business front, numerous factories in the southern region have had to halt operations after their ‘3 on the spot’ bubble imploded with cases. In Binh Duong alone, 390,000 workers are currently living at factories, and these are perfect breeding grounds if the Delta variant gets in.

Cat Lai Port, one of the biggest in HCMC, is struggling to maintain operations with 50% of its normal workforce, leaving imported goods piling up and the possibility of a suspension of receiving more ships.

The local supply chain also faces heavy disruptions due to the numerous travel restrictions both within and between different provinces and cities.

Looking forward

It seems the the speed of vaccinations will play a major role in curbing this fourth wave in Vietnam, and the good news is that the country’s vaccination program has been rapidly acerbating in recent weeks (and even days). Despite this, the country lags significantly behind its regional peers (except for Myanmar) on vaccination roll-out – mostly a result of Vietnam’s initial success in containing the virus in that the country was slow to place and prioritize vaccine orders as the situation was well under control until only recently. HCMC is now aiming to get one vaccine dose into 70% of residents over the age 18 by the end of August, yet this will be a daunting challenge.

Meanwhile Vingroup, the country’s biggest conglomerate, has just received approval to build a vaccine production facility in Hanoi. The company is reported to be negotiating technology transfer with U.S. company Arcturus Therapeutic, which has developed a vaccine using the same mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

In the mean time, strict lock-downs and restrictions on movement will likely remain in place for weeks, which will continue to put  significant pressure on the country’s economy – how much though is not yet clear. The good news is that Vietnam was still able to post growth of 5.64% in the first six months of this year – much higher than the 1.82% rate reported for the same period last year. Growth in the first half of this year was largely driven by the industry and construction sector. Yet given the severe restraints on the economy as the country battles this fourth wave, growth in H2 will likely be a fraction of the 5.64% for H1.


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