After months of some form of a lockdown, Vietnam’s largest city and epicenter of the country’s fourth Covid wave, Ho Chi Minh City, has lifted its “shelter-in-place” order and is allowing many businesses to resume operations. Finally, it seems that a sense of normalcy is returning, yet the city’s battle against Covid-19 is far from over. The following is Access Asia’s latest update on the situation in Vietnam in collaboration with Vietnam Weekly, a subscription-based publication covering current affairs in Vietnam.
Starting today (Oct 1), businesses in Ho Chi Minh City except for bars, spas, karaoke and massage parlors, beauty care services, on-site catering services, cinemas, nightclubs, and video game cafes can re-open in some capacity, and without employees having to stay on-site. This means all restaurants and cafes (those that survived at least) will be back, though strictly for delivery or take-away, while in-person shopping at supermarkets and convenience stores is returning as well. Exercise – both indoor and outdoor – is allowed again, with some incredible capacity limits: 100 people can participate in exercise together if they are all fully vaccinated. (Otherwise the limit is 15.) Gyms are back, also with limits.
Weddings and funerals are also allowed, though with a maximum of 20 people, and other activities such as religious events and hotel stays have gotten the green light, with capacity limitations.
Motorbike repair shops and hairdressers are re-opening, and they are sure to be among the busiest businesses.
Meanwhile, all barricades and roadblocks within HCMC have been removed – except for those in sealed-off infection hotspots – while travel papers have also been done away with, meaning there are no restrictions on moving around the city for fully or partially vaccinated individuals, or people who recovered from Covid-19 within the last six weeks.
Of course huge questions remain regarding what happens if (or when, given how widespread the virus is) cases spike soon after this initial re-opening. There has been a lot of talk about the government shifting strategy from zero-Covid to a “safe and flexible adaptation and effective control of the Covid-19 pandemic” (which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue), but we don’t know what that means in practice yet.
HCMC’s opening is also limited to the city: checkpoints on roads leading to/from neighboring provinces remain in place, and people cannot freely move into places like Binh Duong or Dong Nai for personal travel. (Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An, along with a few Mekong Delta provinces, are also relaxing restrictions today, and huge crowds of people are already trying to enter Long An.)
Provincial governments throughout the southern region, in fact, have told migrant workers wishing to return home not do so on their own. The re-opening of so many businesses here will help some people get back on their feet, but others are still in precarious positions and would prefer to return to the relative safety of their hometowns.
The economic fall-out of the pandemic and the government’s strict response has been immense. On Wednesday we learned that the national GDP contracted by just over 6% in the third quarter, by far the worst quarter since this figure began to be calculated in 2000. (Q2 of last year was the previous worst, but that period still saw positive expansion.)
The New York Times, Nikkei Asia and AFP all ran stories this week on how lockdowns in southern Vietnam were creating chaos across various global industries, adding to a litany of recent international coverage that did not paint a good picture. (This was offset a bit by the head of Samsung Vietnam re-affirming that the country remains an attractive FDI destination.)
Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt that this will be an exciting weekend for residents of HCMC and the surrounding provinces after an extremely hard stretch of several months.
At the start of the week, this outbreak had accounted for 752,186 cases (210,182 active), numbers that are now 790,702 and 162,626. That second figure is particularly notable, as over 20,000 recoveries have been announced each of the last three days.
HCMC’s rolling seven-day average continues to drop, and is now 4,278, the lowest since August 26. The national rolling average fell from 9,938 on Monday to 8,892 yesterday. (Worth noting here that HCMC evidently identified 150,000 positive cases through rapid testing from August 20 that are not registered in the national database. This would give the city a case total of almost 540,000.)
The national death toll, meanwhile, is now 19,301, up from 18,017 on Sunday night.
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