Vietnam Weekly Update: August 6

Vietnam is continuing to battle major Covid-19 outbreaks as the Delta variant takes its course over a country that up until April had been mostly spared from the pandemic. The good news is that data over the last few days indicates cases may have plateaued (granted it may be too early to draw any conclusions). Certainly, aggressive containment measures and  a major vaccination mobilization campaign are working, yet the battle will be a drawn out one as strict containment measures cannot be in place indefinitely without major economic and social repercussions. 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

A week ago, 124,584 community infections had been detected since April 27, a figure that is now 185,004. No new single-day case records have been set over the past week and the national total has hovered in the 7,500-8,500 range (yesterday was below that).

Graph from VnExpress.

On the positive side, thousands more patients have been discharged from treatment, with well over 3,000 recoveries each day over the last week (including a few days with over 4,000).

Sadly the death toll spiked from 863 last Friday to 2,720, with 393 deaths announced last night. Not all of these deaths occurred in the last week, given the health ministry’s new system of cumulative announcements over the span of a few weeks, but this has created a concerning curve.

An extremely welcome curve, on the other hand, is the flattening of cases in Ho Chi Minh City – the epicentre of the current outbreak – which is about to enter its fifth week of a hard lockdown. There may be reason to hope for an easing of the strictest rules (curfew, etc.) in the coming weeks, but likely this would be a very slow easing of social distancing measures.

Vaccinations are finally accelerating as well. Nearly 25% of adults in HCMC have now received a shot, with the government aiming to hit 70% by the end of the month. Regionally, Vietnam is still playing catch-up, with 6.8 million people having at least one shot, or 6.9% of the population (up from 4.9% a week ago).

The vast majority of these doses have been AstraZeneca or Moderna, with some Pfizer mixed in. Interestingly, after 1 million doses of Sinopharm arrived in HCMC last week, city leaders went out of their way to announce on Tuesday that no Sinopharm is actually being used yet, since the doses are still being evaluated. There had been plenty of social media grumbling over the potential deployment of that vaccine.

Since those are sitting unused, Hai Phong has now asked if 500,000 of the doses can be sent from HCMC for use there.

Looking ahead 

While vaccination rates are improving in Hanoi and HCMC, they are going to take much longer to pick up in smaller provinces.

The push for more vaccine doses is only getting more urgent, with top leadership now urging emergency approval of the domestic Nanocovax vaccine, though it has not completed phase three trials yet.

The country’s biggest conglomerate Vingroup, meanwhile, is partnering with US-based Arcturus to trial the latter’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The conglomerate’s Vinbiotech arm received special permission to begin construction of a vaccine plant in Hanoi. The facility is expected to have a capacity of 200 million doses per year upon completion.

Economically, it’s still too early to tell the full impact of the current lock-downs, yet it is difficult to see how Q3 growth will be positive. 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, while the macroeconomy appears stable and inflation is under control.  Foreign investors remain upbeat on Vietnam: As of June 20, 2021, foreign investment projects were estimated to disburse US$9.24 billion, an increase of 6.8 percent compared to the same period in 2020. Even as economic activity is getting hammered by the current lock-downs affecting many parts of the country including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s benchmark VN-Index has just posted nine straight days of gains, with foreign investors being net buyers for the the last five sessions – indicative the investors remain upbeat on Vietnam’s growth prospects over the medium and long term.


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