Southern Vietnam Locked Down

With case numbers & deaths continuing to climb

Good morning, and welcome to the many new subscribers from the last few days. I’ve realized that this newsletter is almost a public service at this point, which I’m very humbled by. I hope you continue to find this useful (though of course I wish we weren’t in this position).

The pandemic situation continues to get worse here, though relative to global hotspots Vietnam is still in good condition. If you’re reading this through a shared link and would like to subscribe to the paid (US$5/month) or free version of the Vietnam Weekly, you can do so below.

On to the news.

19 Provinces Under Major Restrictions

Over the weekend, the number of community infections linked to this COVID-19 outbreak grew from 37,237 to 50,150, while the national death toll climbed to 254. (This has more than doubled in one week since dozens of deaths were reported very late, and keep in mind that the death toll at the start of this outbreak was 35.)

Saturday set another one-day case record, 3,705, which is more than the country recorded overall from January 2020 to the first week of this May, while Sunday completely obliterated that record, with 5,887 cases.

Ho Chi Minh City continues to set records as well (4,692 cases yesterday), and has now detected 31,391 cases this outbreak - frankly an astonishing amount given Vietnam’s previous success. Binh Duong, the city’s heavily industrialized neighbor, has gone well over 2,000 cases too. (I’m not sure what testing figures are like right now - I’ll try to find more on that for Friday.)

A number of southern provinces have recorded substantial infection numbers recently, and at midnight Sunday the entire region - 19 provinces, home to around 35 million people - were placed under Directive 16, meaning strict social distancing, for two weeks.

HCMC, Binh Duong and Dong Nai were already under those restrictions, and their leadership is left with the decision to extend them or not. HCMC’s hard lockdown is set to end this Friday, the 23rd, but it will surely be extended given the situation here.

Hanoi, which is seeing an uptick in cases, is now under increased restrictions as well, with residents asked to leave home only when necessary and all non-essential businesses closed. (The capital had several hundred cases early in this outbreak back in May, suppressed it and largely reopened, and is now shutting down again.)

The majority of cases in HCMC are still being found in isolated areas, but the sheer number of infections is creating major strain: hospitals are running short of ambulances, and two more field hospitals with space for 6,000 beds are rapidly being built.

City leaders have planned out a scenario in which 60,000 cases are detected, and are even considering how to treat infected patients at home in this situation. (Several people have asked on Twitter about hospitalization rates amid the city’s high case numbers, but that’s not as useful here since every positive case is hospitalized in some way. ICU numbers remain low, which is key, and the majority of patients are asymptomatic, but the deputy health minister said this weekend that the death rate is expected to increase significantly, especially in HCMC and Dong Thap Province.)

Worryingly, the region-wide lockdown announcement created some risky situations in terms of transmission possibilities: many thousands of workers and students rushed to the Central Highlands (which isn’t under Directive 16). Checkpoints to enter Dak Nong Province, for example, saw up to 10,000 people arrive - that is a region with relatively limited health infrastructure.

Huge crowds also poured into streets in the Mekong Delta to stock up on food and other supplies before lockdown began.

Food stocks remain a problem at many supermarkets in HCMC, with crowds clearing out meat, produce and eggs as soon as shelves are filled in some areas.

In what I believe is the first such move, Binh Dinh Province (home to Quy Nhon) will fly around 1,000 province natives living in HCMC and facing difficult circumstances back home for free.

As of Sunday morning, 3,956,254 people nationwide had received one vaccine dose, while 304,998 are fully vaccinated. Several million doses - a mix of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca - are expected to be administered through the end of this month.

Officials on Phu Quoc planned to begin vaccinating island residents on Thursday (not sure if that actually happened) in anticipation of welcoming vaccinated foreign tourists in October. This idea seems a bit mad at the moment, but any vaccination is a good one here at this point, as Vietnam remains at the bottom regionally in terms of vaccinations by population share.

Back Friday with the weekly wrap and an update on issues surrounding workers hit by the outbreak.

Michael Tatarski