Vietnam Update: Lockdowns extended as limited headway is made in Covid-19 fight

As Vietnam continues to  battle major Covid-19 outbreaks throughout the country, strict lock-downs have been extended, with Ho Chi Minh City extending its current lock-down for at least one more month. Unfortunately, despite strict containment measures and a rapid vaccination roll-out program, the country is making limited headway against the Delta variant in this fourth wave of Covid cases in Vietnam.  Here is Access Asia’s Monday update on the situation in collaboration with Vietnam Weekly, a subscription-based publication covering current affairs in Vietnam.

Data update

Last Thursday night, this outbreak’s COVID-19 case total was 242,552, with 152,561 active infections. Those figures are now 270,986 and 166,717, while the death toll rose from 4,813 to 5,774.

National daily case total. Chart via VnExpress.

A new single-day record was set on Saturday, which is very worrying considering how long strict social distancing measures have been in place across many provinces. Sunday saw a slight drop, while also setting a new record for recoveries: 5,519.

Ho Chi Minh City’s daily numbers remain at a plateau as residents enter week six of a strict lockdown.

Vaccinations continue to progress, with Ministry of Health data showing that 14,484,933 total shots have now been administered. 64.48% of HCMC residents over the age of 18 have received at least one shot, by far the most of any province/city. (VnExpress has the number of administered doses at 17.6 million – 12.1% of the population with one dose, and 1.4% fully vaccinated. Government websites are often slow to update, even if their ministry is collecting the data.)

The next month

It came as no surprise that Ho Chi Minh City has extended its lock-down, however, instead of a two-week extension, officials have added a full month, all the way to the September 15 target of having the outbreak ‘under control’ set by the central government.

The next 30 days have been broken into two phases when it comes strategy: from now to August 31, the main health focus will be reducing the death rate (HCMC has been averaging well over 200 COVID-19 deaths per day recently) while ensuring that severe patients don’t worsen. The city will work to expand “green zones” (more on those below) while aiming to “control” the outbreak in seven districts: Can Gio, Nha Be, Cu Chi, Phu Nhuan, 5, 7 and 11. These districts have some combination of relatively low case totals and high vaccination rates.

It’s worth pointing out here that, according to the city’s COVID-19 info site, vaccination rates vary widely by district: Phu Nhuan, for example, has given a shot to over 94% of its adults, but the figure in Binh Tan is just 25.1%. Can Gio and district 5 and 11 are over 70%, while Go Vap, Nha Be, District 12 and Hoc Mon are all under 30%.

Then, from September 1-15, the goal will be to reduce the number of deaths and severe cases by 20%; ensure that daily new hospital admissions don’t exceed releases; keep daily hospitalizations under 2,000; and that 70% of adults have one vaccine dose and 15% have two. Just for reference, the lowest one-day case total the city has logged this month is 3,300.

These details are the first time we’ve gotten a real sense of what the city’s leaders are aiming for when they say ‘under control,’ but issues remain. For starters, one vaccine dose, while certainly far better than nothing, offers limited protection against the Delta variant, which is fueling this outbreak. What about people under 18, especially when they return to in-person classes? And, if on September 15, daily hospitalizations are under 2,000 and the death rate has dropped by 20%, does that mean a relaxing of Directive 16? Prior to this outbreak those figures would’ve been completely unprecedented here.

Elsewhere, lockdowns have also been extended – and even strengthened. Da Nang and Nha Trang have banned residents from leaving home for a week, other than for “essential and emergency reasons.” As with lockdown announcements in other areas, this led to large crowds in Da Nang as people tried to stock up.

Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Binh Dinh, Bac Lieu, Vinh Long, Ben Tre, Dong Thap and Can Tho have all also extended Directive 16 rules for ranges of time varying from seven to 17 days.

HCMC continues to modulate its treatment strategies as the outbreak progresses as well. In the latest move, 312 quick-response teams have been created across the city in order to provide emergency assistance to Covid patients whose condition worsens while they are self-isolating at home. This makes a lot of sense, especially given the shortage of ambulances and overwhelmed emergency services.

The ‘green zones’ mentioned above are quite interesting, The concept is simple: if a certain hem/building/area has not recorded any Covid cases recently, it is completely sealed off – similar to blocking off an infection hotspot, but for the opposite reason. Deliveries can come to the entrance but that’s it, and the idea is to keep the virus out completely.

The human impact

The longer this crisis continues, the more desperate people become, especially with no real end in sight. By September 15, HCMC will have been in a hard lockdown for nine full weeks.Thousands of migrant workers have already left to return to their home provinces, and over the weekend an unknown number more attempted to leave the city ahead of the month-long lockdown extension, only to encounter roadblocks and police since provinces have been ordered not to allow people to leave. While charity groups, community organizations and street-level officials continue to do incredible work here, they can’t help everyone. The socio-economic effects of this are going to be long-lasting, wide-ranging and deep – and at present the socioeconomic security of millions are at a risk level not seen for decades in Vietnam.

‘The economic impact

It is still too early to tell the full impact that this fourth wave will have on the economy, yet 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. Certainly, however,  foreign investors remain upbeat on Vietnam and are viewing the current situation as a short-term blimp, while Vietnam’s economic fundamentals remain strong.  While many sectors have been hit hard, one positive aspect is that the pandemic has accelerated e-commerce growth and Vietnam’s digital future. The country’s young and tech savvy population (more than half of Vietnam’s 98 million citizens own smartphones) is attracting foreign tech investors such as Warburg Pincus LLC, Goodwater Capital LLC, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, ParaFi Capital and Spartan Group, while the country’s digital economy is forecast  to expand by about 30 percent by 2025, according to a study by Euromonitor International and reported here. We see great potential for Vietnam’s emerging fintech sector – and the Covid pandemic is only spurring its growth in Vietnam (and elsewhere in Southeast Asia).     Meanwhile, other sectors are also fairing relatively well, including property, power, logistics and banking. While the short-term picture remains unclear, the long-term picture remains bright. We are confident that the economy will make a forceful recovery once the pandemic subsides. In the meantime, fighting the pandemic will take precedence.


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