Living with COVID-19

Restrictions continue to loosen as cases fall

Good morning! Welcome to the latest free-to-read edition of the Vietnam Weekly. If you’re reading this through a shared link and would like to sign up, or if you’d like to upgrade to a paid subscription (US$5/month, US$50/year), you can do so below. I will send out an article for paying subscribers next week.

I had a long-ish feature on VinFast’s ambitions to sell electric vehicles in the US next year published by The Ken. The piece also looks at the carmaker’s place in the broader Vingroup empire - you may need to enter your email address to read it.

On to the news.

Learning to live with Covid

As Ho Chi Minh City’s punishing lockdown fades further into the rearview mirror, it’s becoming harder to recognize that it even happened. Traffic seems to be getting heavier by the day, and pandemic-related precautions are very hit-or-miss when it comes to entering businesses. I’ve only been asked to show my vaccine green pass a small handful of times.

Police are stepping up patrols to fine people for not wearing masks, but enforcement appears to be rare.

Daily COVID-19 cases in the city remain low (though I still have found no data on testing this month), and F&B businesses are lobbying hard for in-person dining to be allowed again. My prediction is that this will come on November 1, with capacity limits. (There was also a proposal to resume in-person dining with the exception of businesses which serve beer or alcohol - I reckon most places here serve at least beer.)

Phan Van Mai, chair of the municipal People’s Committee, said this week that HCMC likely won’t be able to enter the ‘new normal’ (which hasn’t exactly been defined) by next month. I assume this a reference to allowing all types of businesses to reopen - bars, nightclubs, cinemas, spas and karaoke parlors are all still closed, though they have reopened in a number of other provinces.

At the same time, flight rules are being relaxed significantly, with the Ministry of Transport allowing the reopening of all domestic routes, and unvaccinated people to fly as well. Through November 30, people flying out of Tan Son Nhat, Can Tho and other ‘high-risk’ areas will have to test negative for Covid within 72 hours before their flight. This means that residents of low-risk areas can fly without being tested even if they are unvaccinated. (The same goes for train passengers.)

Vietnam Airlines plans to operate 120 flights per day by the end of this month.

This all comes while the outbreak hasn’t exactly ended. Soc Trang and Ca Mau are experiencing their largest case spikes yet after tens of thousands of internal migrants returned to their hometowns from the HCMC-Binh Duong-Dong Nai industrial belt.

Quarantine and self-isolation rules mean risk of transmission to the broader community is reduced, but not eliminated, and health experts have warned that the outbreak’s future is still unpredictable.

This is obvious, as less than 20% of the population is fully vaccinated, while countries like Singapore, with a vaccination rate of over 80%, have had their own struggles.

The exodus of migrant workers is still reverberating through the economy, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Lien Hoang of Nikkei Asia reported on how the labor paradox of large-scale unemployment is occurring in parallel with a keen industrial labor shortage, despite benefits like an extra month’s pay being offered by some companies.

Most students in the hardest-hit provinces won’t return to in-person classes until January, meaning families don’t need to be where their school is, and Tet, which has its own labor-related dynamics, is just over three months away - presumably, many people already have their eye on that huge holiday, especially after the difficulties of this year.

As of last weekend, about 143,000 workers had returned to HCMC since lockdown ended, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to how many people have left in the same time period.

VnExpress had a good piece on how the extreme hardship many faced during the worst of lockdown has some reconsidering ever returning to their factory jobs.

Meanwhile, thousands of people still in HCMC who desperately need financial help aren’t receiving it, as several district governments have run out of money from the city’s latest support package.

We also learned this week that the central government has spent US$1.3 billion on fighting the pandemic since it began.

In terms of outbreak indicators, the rolling seven-day average for deaths is down to 78, a figure not seen since the end of July, while the same figure for daily infections is the lowest since the middle of that month.

Over 1 million vaccine doses have been administered nationwide almost every day this month (a figure that reached over 2 million on Tuesday), proving that the only thing that can slow down this campaign is supply.


Have a safe weekend!

Mike Tatarski