Ho Chi Minh City Appears Steady

But a new national one-day record is set

Good morning. The Vietnam Weekly is back with a Monday update, and I can’t see this switching back to once a week anytime soon. (For newer readers - before this outbreak, I only sent the newsletter out on Fridays.) I’ll also release a new episode of the Vietnam Weekly Podcast, featuring cookbook author Andrea Nguyen giving tips on cooking Vietnamese food at home during lockdown, this week. It’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever podcasts are found.

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On to the news.

Data Update

On Thursday night, this outbreak had accounted for 185,004 cases of community transmission, a figure that is now 206,439 (135,462 of which are active). In a very concerning development (though I know case numbers can vary wildly on a daily basis), yesterday set a new single-day case record, 9,684. Vietnam had gone over a week without breaking any records. Testing data remains frustratingly limited.

Ho Chi Minh City had a relatively good day yesterday, with 3,898 case reported, but Binh Duong hit 3,210 and is nearing 30,000 cases in this outbreak, while Long An, Dong Nai, Khanh Hoa and Da Nang are in the middle of growing outbreaks.

Thousands more recoveries have been announced (HCMC on its own is averaging 3,300 per day), though they they remain outpaced by new cases, while the death toll has increased again, from 2,720 to 3,397.

These leaps in deaths remain incredibly jarring. I can still remember when Vietnam’s first recorded COVID-19 death happened during the Da Nang outbreak last summer, and how rare deaths remained after that (a reminder that the death toll was 35 when this outbreak began).

In HCMC alone, as of last week, 2,070 patients need respiratory support, while 1,331 are in critical condition. City officials have admitted that even with numerous field hospitals set up, private hospitals brought into the fight, and thousands of medical personnel sent in from other parts of the country, the health system is overloaded. It would be very difficult for Vietnam to handle another province completely exploding, if that were to happen.

Vaccinations have maintained a solid clip, with well over 300,000 doses administered each of the last three days, but there remains a huge gap between the number of doses Vietnam has received, and the number that have gone into arms: according to VnExpress data, 17.6 million doses have arrived, and 8 million - mostly AstraZeneca and Moderna - have been administered (7.1 million partially vaccinated, 888,500 fully vaccinated).

This gap has not gone unnoticed, and over the weekend the Ministry of Health threatened to transfer doses from provinces with slow rollouts to areas which are moving faster, in addition to not allocating future doses.

Officials in Ho Chi Minh City, meanwhile, have warned that the city could run out of doses by the end of today, and asked the health ministry to immediately allocate more to it. (Some wards have already announced that they are temporarily suspending vaccinations.)

It’s not clear what the holdup is here, both for the city and nationally, when it comes to distributing delivered doses. (As far as I know, 1 million unused Sinopharm doses are still in HCMC.)

The state of restrictions

HCMC is now in its fifth week of strict Directive 16 regulations, with the most recent extension set to expire this coming weekend. Even with ongoing signs of stabilization in terms of case numbers here, the hard lockdown will surely be extended again. (It would be nice to see this curving down soon.)

Thus far I haven’t seen any public discussion of what the threshold may be for starting to ramp things down. City officials are aiming to have at least one vaccine dose in 70% of adults by the end of this month (a goal that will be threatened by any vaccine supply disruption) in order to achieve theoretical herd immunity. Logic would follow a loosening of restrictions at the same time, but it’s hard to see much relaxing for quite some time. (I would be incredibly happy with a long stretch of Directive 15, which would allow for food delivery and outdoor exercise.)

The food voucher rollout, meanwhile, remains uneven, with some people still waiting for theirs, while not every store enforces their use.

Up north, Hanoi extended its strict social distancing rules until August 22. It has been averaging 50-70 new cases per day (a jump to 114 yesterday), with clusters linked to high-traffic areas like wholesale markets and supermarkets.

Over the weekend, local media in HCMC reported on how funeral and cremation costs were placing immense financial strain of families who had lost someone to COVID-19.

City officials responded by announcing that all funeral service costs for people who die from the virus will be covered by the municipal budget.

Looking ahead

I’ve written before about transportation difficulties due to widespread, yet inconsistent, rules on shipping goods across provinces, and this has created a huge backup of agriculture products.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, millions of tons of rice, four million tons of produce, 400 million eggs, 600,000 tons of chicken, 120,000 tons of seafood and 80,000 tons of pork are stuck throughout southern Vietnam. Beyond the obvious threat of much-needed food spoiling, this is also a huge problem for farmers who rely on selling their goods to survive.

The industrial sector is still struggling as well. Many companies in Dong Nai Province have asked to stop following the ‘three on the spot’ model, under which factory workers live, eat and work in one facility, since this has led to numerous COVID-19 clusters and factory disruptions/shutdowns.

Nanogen, producer of the Nanocovax vaccine (currently Vietnam’s most promising domestically produced vaccine candidate), announced over the weekend that its product has an efficacy rate of 90%.

Phase three trials of the vaccine are still ongoing, and while it’s clear that the government desperately wants to get Nanocovax out there to reduce dependency on imported vaccines, we’re going to be waiting on this one for a while longer.

Back Friday with the weekly wrap.


Mike Tatarski