Curfews & Shopping Vouchers

Tightening rules as the outbreak rages

Good morning! Welcome to new readers, and thanks to everyone for sticking with the Vietnam Weekly. I’m fully aware that recent editions have been pretty grim, and in the interest of full disclosure it’s been really difficult to find much positivity in the situation here. I don’t mean to get everyone down, but it’s simply how I’m seeing things.

Yesterday I sent out a piece for paying subscribers which looked at confusion and complications regarding vaccinations and deliveries amid the outbreak. You can upgrade to a paid subscription (US$5/month) to read that and past articles below.

At 2pm Vietnam time today, I’m taking part in an online panel discussion called ‘Covid in Vietnam,’ hosted by The Social Changemakers Network. More details can be found here.

On to the news.


Data update

Through the course of the week, this outbreak has grown in size from 94,666 community infections to 124,584, bringing the national pandemic total to 128,360. The death toll leapt from 370 to 863, according to VnExpress - the health ministry is still very slow to update deaths, and has this figure at 630. (Also important to note that not all of those deaths occurred this week; for some unknown reason deaths are now being reported in batches across several weeks.)

Nationally, the daily case total was over 7,000 for four days straight until Wednesday (6,555), but jumped up again to 7,593 yesterday. HCMC set records on Monday (5,997) and Tuesday (6,318) before seeing a decline on Wednesday (4,449) and a slight increase yesterday (4,592).

Thursday also saw the highest number of provinces record at least one case since the pandemic began - 38 out of 63. (Cao Bang is the only province to not report a single case this entire outbreak.)

HCMC has now logged 81,781 infections in this outbreak, with a huge proportion of that figure coming in the last two weeks, while Binh Duong is at 10,684 and Long An, Dong Nai, Dong Thap and Tay Ninh are clocking triple-digit daily case totals.

Apologies for the all numbers, but 1,536 of yesterday’s total cases didn’t have a clear transmission link, which is substantial.

In good news, 4,353 patients in HCMC were discharged on Wednesday, and over 2,000 more were discharged yesterday.

Vaccinations are picking up pace as well, after it was reported that HCMC in particular was barely meeting half of its daily injection goal. On Tuesday, 238,768 doses were administered nationwide, a huge increase from 99,943 on Tuesday, and a figure that rose to 262,870 on Wednesday. (Thursday’s data wasn’t available yet.)

Almost 1 million people in HCMC have received a shot, by far the most of any locality, though it’s still going to take a lot of time for the national figure to become substantial: 4.4% of the population has received one dose, and 0.5% is fully vaccinated.

Curfews & shopping vouchers

In a significant development that has been oddly (or maybe not) under-reported by domestic media, on Wednesday the National Assembly approved what are essentially ‘state of emergency’ powers to Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and central ministries in Hanoi to “decide and take responsibility for the implementation of a number of urgent solutions in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This means PM Chinh can make decisions for HCMC and other provinces without consulting the local government. Incredibly, these powers will be in effect until December 31, 2022, and according to Nikkei Asia, “These include measures that have yet to be legalized, and the government is able to skip some key steps in creation of new legal frameworks in order to fight COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, a new round of rules also came into force across numerous provinces this week.

Starting Monday, HCMC began enforcing a 6pm-6am daily curfew, with five priority groups including emergency personnel, sanitation workers, reporters (not me) and pandemic control workers exempt.

Curfews have since spread to 11 other southern provinces, while HCMC officials are expected to announce an extension of strict Directive 16 regulations today - it’s safe to assume this will be for another two weeks, but it’s not difficult to see this lasting for significantly longer than that.

The city has been under progressively tightening rules for three months now, and is still registering high daily case totals, including new infections outside of quarantine zones.

Some wards and districts have also begun distributing vouchers which allow one person per household to shop for food and essentials on a given day and within a given time period. At the moment I’m not sure how much of the city this covers, but we received vouchers on Tuesday, and I went grocery shopping on Wednesday at the correct time - and no one asked about a ticket. (I’ve heard from numerous people in other districts who had a similar experience.)

These vouchers are being used in Hanoi as well, and even if they don’t seem to be a requirement yet, the mere fact of having them - combined with the curfew - is an eerie sensation that’s hard to describe.

As with so many of these recent rules, the curfew has created even more problems for delivery drivers and shipping companies, who have been hammered by stringent regulations that have turned any delivery that actually takes place into a heroic effort.

On the business front, numerous factories in the southern region have had to halt operations after their ‘3 on the spot’ bubble imploded with cases. In Binh Duong alone, 390,000 workers are currently living at factories, and these are perfect breeding grounds if the Delta variant gets in.

Cat Lai Port, one of the biggest in HCMC, is struggling to maintain operations with 50% of its normal workforce, leaving imported goods piling up and the possibility of a suspension of receiving more ships.

The local supply chain also faces heavy disruptions due to the numerous travel restrictions both within and between different provinces and cities.

Moving forward

As stated earlier, I don’t see an end point to this any time soon, though HCMC is now aiming to get one vaccine dose into 70% of residents over the age 18 by the end of August, which would be frankly astonishing given the current pace of vaccine supply.

Yesterday, in a bit of mixed messaging that has become far too common, Deputy Prime Minister said it could take months to bring the epidemic under control in HCMC (though it’s not clear what ‘under control’ means here), while at the same time, PM Chinh was saying that “normal life will soon return.”

It’s clear that officials have realized the country is way behind on vaccinations, and Nikkei Asia reported in the same story linked above that Nanocovax, the domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate currently in stage three trials, could be used in high-risk areas at some point. That would be…something, as no data is currently available on how those trials are going, and the timeline for completing them has shifted numerous times.

And in an ugly development, the PM also announced that companies which donated to the national vaccine fund will receive priority for vaccinations (though the VnExpress story which originally carried that news has been edited rather dramatically). This was a concern regarding that fund when it was announced.

We can only hope at this point that the number of vaccine doses being delivered to Vietnam ramps up very quickly, though most shipments are still expected to be later in Q3 and into Q4


Extra Links:

As Vietnam’s coronavirus surge continues, lockdowns take their toll on factory output, small businesses (South China Morning Post)

What Happens When Artists Turn a Fishing Village Into Their Canvas? (Saigoneer)

COVID-19 Turned Vietnam’s State-Run Union’s Greatest Weakness Into Its Biggest Strength (The Diplomat)

On the Idea of Home: Reflections From Another Covid-19 Summer (Saigoneer)

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Unless something earth-shattering happens over the weekend, I’m taking Monday off from the newsletter for a personal break, though there should be a new Vietnam Weekly Podcast episode coming out today. Stay safe!

Mike Tatarski