Vietnam Weekly Update: July 26

After remarkable success in containing the Covid-19 pandemic from January 2020 to April 2021, the situation has turned in Vietnam as the Delta variant surges throughout many parts of the country. The worst hit is the country’s economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City, which will make the overall economic impact of this fourth wave significant. Strict lock-downs are significantly disrupting businesses and supply chains, while the socio-economic security of millions are at a risk level not seen for decades in Vietnam. Yet, the government’s containment policy is clear, strong and decisive (unlike many other countries, particularly in the West): Protecting public health takes priority and suffering short-term pain is necessary to avoid a more dire and prolonged crisis.

Due to the unfolding situation of the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam and it disruption to business, Access Asia Group will be providing weekly updates in partnership with Vietnam Weekly,  a subscription-based publication produced by the Ho Chi Minh City-based American journalist Michael Tatarski.

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The latest numbers

Let’s start with a data update. At the start of the weekend, 70,621 community cases had been attributed to this outbreak, a figure which is now 94,666. New single-day case records were set on Friday and Saturday, while Vietnam’s pandemic-long infection total has hit 98,409, and will surpass 100,000 today. (Remember, the national case total was under 4,000 when this started on April 27.)

78,705 of these cases are active, with the majority asymptomatic, while the death toll remains unchanged (370), meaning we can probably expect another large announcement in the coming days.

Ho Chi Minh City remains in very bad shape, with 60,425 cases logged (up from 45,561 on Thursday night), and 7,000 additional medical personnel have been sent as reinforcements.

Binh Duong is also recording substantial numbers and is at 8,010 cases in this outbreak, with Dong Nai, Tay Ninh, Tien Giang, Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, and Phu Yen all clocking triple-digits yesterday. (Vinh Long, in the Mekong Delta, has detected a cluster of at least 30 cases linked to a funeral that received official approval and was limited to 30 people. Such is the transmissibility of Delta.)

Vaccination figures are still low – mostly because the country was late at ordering due to its initial success. Vietnam is at the bottom of this chart (although it seems there isn’t sufficient data for Myanmar to be included in this chart):

Expanding restrictions

Unsurprisingly, Hanoi’s government implemented Directive 16 in an effort to stem rising case numbers, shutting down almost all businesses, though residents had little time to prepare: this was announced at 11pm Friday night and began at 6am Saturday, and some market vendors opened for business without even realizing they couldn’t.

Similar scenes to what was seen in HCMC following the Directive 16 announcement ensued, including packed supermarkets and massive traffic jams as people tried to leave Hanoi.

Initially, the capital’s Department of Transport also announced an unprecedented complete ban of delivery services, even for groceries, which would’ve been even more restrictive than HCMC’s delivery rules.

However, city officials clarified that the ban covered apps like Grab, Gojek, etc., not all deliveries across the board.

Hanoi has also taken a rough approach to solo outdoor activities, with one woman making national headlines for being fined for walking her dog.

In HCMC, besides the Directive 12 rules which came into effect last week (mostly impacting fully sealed-off areas), a curfew is now in place from 6PM to 6AM.

This follows last week’s discussions of more intense rules, and does raise the question of what the endgame is here: how far will restrictions go if the city continues to record massive case numbers every day? We’re on week three of Directive 16 and the situation has only gotten worse – and city leaders have already raised the possibility of extending the regulations for another two weeks past August 1.

This also comes after Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, who coordinates the national pandemic response and has been in HCMC for some time, made clear that he was not happy about how many people he saw on the streets while being driven to meetings around town.

Looking ahead

Officials in HCMC still do not know when this outbreak might peak, and they are in the midst of restructuring how cases are handled given the huge number of asymptomatic infections (for starters, they are no longer treating such individuals as patients).

Preparations are also underway for the possibility of 80,000 cases just in HCMC, and officials have admitted that we are still not guaranteed to avoid “scenario three,” i.e. an out-of-control outbreak. Yet, the implementation of stricter social distancing measures, the speed-up of vaccinations and the government’s zealous approach to fighting and containing the virus provide a level of optimism that the tide will be soon be turned.