Social Distancing Returns to Ho Chi Minh City

Can two weeks beat the outbreak?

Hello to all new readers - this is a tough time for Vietnam, though I’m glad you find value in this newsletter. If you’re reading through a shared link and would like to sign up, or if you’d like to upgrade to a paid subscription (US$5/month), you can do so below.

Sadly it’s been another worrying, eventful weekend.

On to the news.


Ho Chi Minh City Implements Social Distancing

Government officials have generally avoided the term ‘lockdown’ throughout the pandemic, but just about the next closest thing came into force in HCMC at midnight.

City-wide social distancing measures are now in place for two weeks. This policy is called Directive 15, and it “requires suspension of social events, bans gatherings of 20 people or more in one place and of 10 people or more outside workplaces, schools and hospitals. A minimum distance of two meters between people in public places should be ensured.”

Non-essential businesses are also closed, and the streets this morning were certainly quieter than normal, though not exactly dead.

Densely populated Go Vap District, as well as one ward in District 12, have been placed under Directive 16, which restricts gatherings to two people and asks residents only to leave home for essential work or to buy food or medicine. That covers almost 720,000 people - and this announcement sent thousands of people rushing to supermarkets, though officials had asked residents not to panic buy. Those areas have recorded numerous COVID-19 cases linked to the Revival Ekklesia Mission over the last week.

Overall, the city has recorded 157 cases, almost entirely traced to that cluster, and the group is now facing a criminal investigation for not complying with pandemic prevention measures.

This is the first time such steps have been taken in HCMC since April of 2020, which gives you a sense of how serious the situation is.

Thankfully, massive testing is going on, with 50,000 samples taken in one ward of Go Vap alone on Friday night. To my knowledge, this is the first time an entire city ward has been tested, and more cases are certainly expected in the coming days.

City officials said last night that they plan to test all residents of areas where members of the Revival Ekklesia Mission lived, with the goal of taking 100,000 samples per day - an effort that could expand to the entire city. (Last night VnExpress had a headline about testing the whole population of 13 million, but that has vanished. It would take 130 days to test everyone at a rate of 100,000 per day.)

The other big news from the weekend is the Ministry of Health’s announcement that genetic sequencing on current COVID-19 patients found a new, highly transmissible (their words) variant of the virus with characteristics of both the previously known Indian and UK variants.

This was quickly picked up internationally, and has probably freaked people out, though experts I’ve spoken to advised against overreacting until more research is done on the clinical impact of this variant.

Nationally, the outbreak remains serious: 34 provinces and cities have now been detected at least one case (over half of Vietnam’s localities), while this wave has accounted for 4,096 cases (up from 3,295 on Friday) and 12 deaths, including the country’s youngest virus-related fatality yet. The total pandemic case total is now 7,107, with a death toll of 47.

In Bac Giang, which has registered by far the most COVID-19 cases this month, two Foxconn factories have resumed operations amid concerns that intense outbreaks in industrial zones there would disrupt vital supply chains for Vietnam’s massive electronic component industry.

While all of this is concerning, there is no sense of panic (nor should there be), and the general feeling is that Vietnam will get through this once again using the same methods that have proven so effective over the last 15 months. There are definitely going to be a few more weeks of pain at the least.

Sadly, this outbreak - along with those impacting other countries in the region - shows the dichotomy of vaccinations globally. My vaccinated friends and family in the US are now able to return to restaurants and bars (if they choose to), yet here we are in HCMC turning the clocks back to a year ago - and there is no improvement in that divide in sight.

Back Friday with the weekly wrap.

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Mike Tatarski