Cases Climb Upwards

While vaccinations inch along

Good morning, and welcome to the latest Vietnam Weekly. It appears this will remain entirely focused on COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, and I’m certainly looking forward to the day that changes. If you’re reading this through a shared link, you can subscribe to the paid (US$5/month) or free editions below. I’ll send out a piece for paying subscribers next week, and there will also be a new podcast episode coming as well.

Speaking of podcasts, I was a guest on the South East Asia Travel Show earlier this week to discuss (you guessed it) the outbreak in Vietnam and any (dim) prospects for domestic travel the rest of this year, as well a bit about myself and Saigoneer.

And for The Third Pole, I wrote about how droughts in the Mekong Delta are exacerbated by domestic agricultural policies and anti-flood systems. (This story doesn’t mention the pandemic a single time.)

On to the news.

Cases & Vaccinations

On Sunday night, the case total linked to this outbreak stood at 50,150, a figure that has risen substantially to 70,621, pushing Vietnam’s pandemic total over 70,000. Sunday’s record of 5,887 infections stood until yesterday’s 6,164, and no day in between those two had seen under 4,000 new cases.

The pandemic death toll jumped from 254 to 370 following two more announcements of dozens of deaths over the last few weeks. I’ve yet to see an explanation of why these are happening all of a sudden, as previously deaths were reported on a daily basis.

Ho Chi Minh City has now logged 45,561 cases, while Binh Duong has flown past 5,000 cases (5,368) and Long An, Dong Nai, Dong Thap and Tien Giang have all gone over 1,000 cases, largely in the last two weeks. Phu Quoc detected its first case of this outbreak yesterday - noteworthy given the hopes of a ‘sandbox’ re-opening in October.

In HCMC, 533 patients are on mechanical ventilation, while 10 are on ECMO treatment. In good news, on Wednesday alone, 1,585 patients were discharged from the hospital, and health officials expect to see roughly 1,000 people discharged per day in the coming weeks.

In terms of vaccinations, progress remains slow. According to data from VnExpress, 3.72 million people have received one dose (3.8% of the population), while just 325,000 people are fully vaccinated.

Moving ahead

HCMC’s fifth round of vaccinations officially began yesterday, during which 930,000 doses will be administered - a mix of AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer, as well as some Sinopharm. Instead of having a few major vaccination points, which caused huge crowds in June, the municipal Department of Health has set up 600 small vaccination sites across the city with a target of 120 injections per day each over the next two or three weeks.

Priority is being given to 50,000 people over 65 years of age and 100,000 people with underlying diseases, while other groups in this round include healthcare workers, military personnel, police officers, teachers and those providing essential services.

Once this round of vaccinations is complete, close to two million people in the city will have received at least one shot.

Since this outbreak began on April 27, almost 13 million people have been tested nationwide - that is roughly the population of HCMC, so clearly the plan to test most city residents still has not come to fruition.

As with previous weeks, the vast majority of cases continue to be found in isolated zones, but HCMC’s Center for Disease Control said yesterday that the city has not reached its peak, and it is not known when that might happen. The military is going to disinfect the entire city (evidently) over the next week.

Directive 16, which guides the city’s strict ongoing lockdown, is in place for another week, though this is sure to be extended given the ongoing infection figures.

In fact, city leaders are discussing the possibility of even more stringent regulations, though the articles on these talks have been very vague so there is no indication of what that would entail.

Da Nang is the latest locality to bring in new regulations, shutting down non-essential businesses, banning delivery and ride-hailing services, as well as outdoor exercise (I really wish officials would rethink this, as outdoor exercise has consistently been one of the first targets) and urging residents not to leave home unless necessary. (The Da Nang government also airlifted 600 city residents home from HCMC on three free flights.)

Officials in Vung Tau, meanwhile, took the particularly extreme step of banning residents from traveling to work by motorbike or walking - instead, companies have to arrange vans to bring in workers, but these vans can only operate at 50% of capacity. Someone explain this one to me, as I simply don’t get it.

Meanwhile, anyone arriving from one of the 19 provinces currently under Directive 16 to Hanoi must be centrally quarantined - prior to Thursday, they were able to isolate at home/a hotel.

Rather astonishingly, 1,300 people flew from HCMC to Hanoi on Monday - this is a key route for many reasons, but given the virus situation in the south, I don’t know why air travel hasn’t been restricted further.

On that note, from yesterday, only two flights per day will be allowed to go from HCMC to Hanoi, with a cap of 200 passengers. (During normal times, this route is the sixth-busiest in the world.)

The capital also saw massive crowds at Covid testing sites and a vaccine registration point this week, similar to scenes here in HCMC earlier in the month. One would think lessons would’ve been learned from that.

There are concerning signs from the Central Highlands - this follows something I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, where tens of thousands of people left southern Vietnam for the region before lockdown began. Kon Tum Province has recorded its first cases of this outbreak, while Dak Lak Province detected 37 cases in four days, and numbers are expected to grow.

And in a very disturbing development, 506 COVID-19 cases have been detected at the Bo La Drug Rehabilitation Center in Binh Duong after 725 staff and inmates (despite rehabilitation being in the name, these facilities are basically prisons) were tested. Medical workers from HCMC have been sent to the neighboring province to help with treatment.

The economic impact

The economic fallout from this outbreak continues to be substantial, and Directive 16 will continue to cause pain for anyone relying on daily income and many businesses.

Nikkei Asia has the latest on factory closures that are hitting companies you’ve probably heard of like Netflix, Ikea and Nike, while suppliers for Apple and Nestle have set up ‘bubbles’ so workers can live on-site.

The closure of two major Nike suppliers is putting the corporation’s entire Vietnam supply chain at risk, and the country accounted for about half of Nike’s branded footwear production in 2020.

The region-wide pandemic restrictions are also creating problems for key export ports.

One industry doing very well amid all of this is the tent sector, as roughly 165 factories are currently looking to house workers in tents. Some companies can’t keep up with the demand though, or are running of tent material. (Amusingly, one tent company called Leu Viet is advertising their products as “disease-proof.”)

Maintaining food supply for HCMC and surrounding provinces has remained a key topic. This week, five high-speed boats normally used to ferry passengers to Vung Tau and other coastal destinations began bringing food and medical supplies from the Mekong Delta to the city on a daily basis.

With markets still largely closed and many local tạp hóa shut (a situation that is hurting many, many people), some post offices, pharmacies and beauty stores have begun selling produce in an effort to relieve pressure on supermarkets and convenience stores (the latter of which have also expanded their product range, such as this Family Mart near my house).

On Monday I’ll get into updates on financial aid for people who need it during the outbreak - I wanted to touch on that today but we’ve already covered a lot of ground.


Extra links:

Trái Thị: The Fruit of Heavenly Smell and Infernal Taste (Urbanist Hanoi)

The Anti-Vietnamese Legacy of Kem Ley (New Naratif)

'Thưa Mẹ Con Đi' Producer Nguyễn Lương Hằng on Her Hopes for Vietnam's Indie Cinema (Saigoneer)

Stay safe!

Mike Tatarski