Good morning - welcome to all new readers; I hope you’re keeping safe wherever you are in the world. You’ll have seen this yesterday, but I just want to share once again the first episode of the Vietnam Weekly Podcast, featuring a conversation about human trafficking in Vietnam with Michael Brosowski of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation - it is available through Spotify here. Another episode will go up in two weeks, and if you have any suggestions for people I should talk to, please let me know!
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I had a story on the surprising urban focus of Vietnam’s 1 billion trees program published by the South China Morning Post this week.
On to the news.
No End in Sight
On Monday morning, this ongoing outbreak had accounted for 7,424 cases of community transmission, a figure that jumped considerably to 8,914 as of last night. At least 398 cases have been registered in each of the last three days, and yesterday set a record for the entire pandemic with 503. This is not an ideal direction right now.
Bac Giang is still the biggest hotspot, with 5,007 cases since late April, while HCMC sailed past 1,000 cases in just three weeks to 1,197 (and appears to have the most clusters outside of isolated areas). Bac Ninh has the second-highest case total, at 1,454, but its infection numbers have been slowing.
The national pandemic case total is 12,014, with 7,296 active, and 61 deaths.
Many provinces remain in the clear infection-wise, which is good news, but the situation in HCMC remains very concerning.
As expected, officials extended the social distancing regulations that were set to expire Monday night for an additional two weeks. Go Vap District was removed from stricter rules since the cluster linked to the church group was suppressed, and Directive 15 is now in place city-wide. With the metropolis now registering around 90 cases from multiple clusters several days in a row - driven by the Delta variant first found in India - I’m starting to wonder how effective these rules are.
The Conversation, meanwhile, has a good piece about the health ministry’s misguided announcement regarding a new ‘hybrid variant’ two weeks ago, which it still has not publicly corrected.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son told local media that these next two weeks are crucial for the city, and that “if people don’t take the chance…to maintain distances, avoid crowds and public transport, there would be no chance to stop the disease and instead, the risk would be even higher.”
The city is adding up to 1,000 hospital beds to its inventory for COVID-19 patients (I haven’t seen data on what condition current patients are in), while over 11,300 people are now in centralized quarantine facilities around the city. City leaders have also developed a plan for a scenario in which HCMC hits 5,000 cases.
Health officials have also said that the issue of vaccinated employees at the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases testing positive for COVID-19 is not unusual - almost all of them are asymptomatic.
Over 42,000 people in the city are currently out of work due to pandemic closures.
Other trouble spots include Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, where social distancing measures have been put in place, and Nghe An Province, where over 6,000 F1-level contacts have been linked to a police officer responsible for taking fingerprints for ID cards in Vinh who tested positive. That city has now been placed under social distancing as well.
There is finally some real vaccine news, as a batch of 966,320 AstraZeneca vaccine doses donated by Japan arrived in Hanoi late Wednesday night. 836,000 doses from this shipment were immediately sent on to HCMC, and these will be administered quickly - in one week starting on Saturday.
The shots are intended for frontline workers, essential service providers, teachers, public workers, people over 65, and industrial zone workers. The rest of the doses will go to Bac Giang and Bac Ninh.
Around 1.8 million people have received at least one AstraZeneca dose, and roughly 72,000 are fully vaccinated.
The leadership of Kien Giang Province has proposed vaccinating the entire population of Phu Quoc so that the island can open to international tourists in September or October (file that one under wait and see). I also learned this week that islands have been a priority for the vaccination campaign thanks to their limited health facilities and military personnel - for example, the plush Six Senses Con Dao resort posted on Facebook that almost all adult residents of the island, including the hotel’s staff, have been vaccinated.
And Nanocovax, the most advanced of Vietnam’s domestic vaccine candidates, could be approved by year-end, but that’s obviously a long way off and the company behind it has little experience conducting international Phase 3 trials.
I had planned to add a section about the latest metro system woes in Hanoi and HCMC, but I don’t feel like sharing more bad news right now, so here is a bumper crop of great Vietnam-linked stories published recently.
The fall of the King of Squirrels (Rest of World)