Vietnam has been praised globally for containing coronavirus outbreaks but the latest wave of cases poses a threat to the country’s economic growth, particularly as it jeopardizes plans to reopen international tourism.
By Umair Jamal
Vietnam faces a challenge to its widely-reported success against the coronavirus as a fresh outbreak that began on April 29 is spreading quickly across the country.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has warned that the new wave could have lasting impacts if it is not brought under control. “The risk for the outbreak to spread nationwide is very high,” Chinh said, adding “We need to deploy stronger measures to curb the outbreak.”
The outbreak could threaten the economic growth that Vietnam has managed to maintain throughout the pandemic. While other countries in Southeast Asia with strict containment measures have seen their economies slump, Vietnam’s GDP grew by 2.9% in 2020.
To curb the spread of the new wave of infections, Vietnam has imposed new restrictions and issued fresh quarantine guidelines. Health officials and citizens believe that the latest outbreak may be due to people’s lack of commitment to existing coronavirus guidelines.
New outbreak brings increased risk
On April 29, Vietnam reported its first locally-transmitted coronavirus case in 35 days. Daily cases reached 125 on May 10 but are now declining, though the new wave is now reported to have spread to 19 provinces. Since the start of the pandemic, Vietnam has reported over 3,571 cases and 35 deaths.
As the number of local transmissions grows, some cases have been linked to international arrivals who tested positive even after completing their mandatory two-week quarantine. This indicates that Vietnam may now have cases of a coronavirus strain that has a longer incubation period than others.
“The recent developments of the pandemic in the world have been very complicated, and the new outbreaks are often stronger, more widespread and more devastating than the previous ones,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long told media on May 6.
“Given this situation, we are very concerned about the threats of the infection from outside,” he added.
In 2020, Vietnam was able to limit the economic impact of the pandemic by successfully containing the spread of the coronavirus.
The government was planning to reopen the country to international tourism between July and September, beginning with a limited reopening of popular beach and golf resorts around Danang. Had this gone according to plan, this would have placed the country on track to open fully for international tourists by the end of 2021.
A report released by the Asian Development Bank on April 28 estimates that Vietnam’s economic growth is likely to rebound to 6.7% in 2021 and 7% in 2022 if growth continues. However, this projected growth could be severely impacted by the latest coronavirus outbreak if the surge is not contained quickly.
Government tightens measures to contain fresh outbreak
Vietnam’s government has issued new quarantine guidelines, increasing the mandatory quarantine for anyone entering the country from 14 days to 21.
The National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, which has been on the front line of treating coronavirus patients, has been sealed off after a doctor and more than 20 other people, including two nurses and patients, tested positive during the first week of May.
In provinces where outbreaks have been reported, the government has closed schools. In Hanoi, all restaurants, bars and gyms have been closed and the government has told people to refrain from gathering.
Vietnam has also stepped up patrols along its borders with Cambodia and Laos in an attempt to prevent people from entering the country illegally, which could undermine the country’s containment efforts.
Complacency may have caused the latest outbreak
Health officials say that people in Vietnam are now complacent around COVID-19 prevention and may have lowered their guard when it comes to strictly following prevention measures.
The latest wave of infections began just before public holidays on April 30 and May 1, when beaches and cities were crowded with people despite health officials’ warnings of another outbreak. Some health professionals in the country say the current outbreak is higher risk than those in the past.
As cases rise, citizens have also started to question the government’s handling of the fresh outbreak with some saying that authorities may be hiding the true extent of the crisis.
One Vietnamese citizen told Radio Free Asia, “If the government covers up information about the outbreak, we will fall into the same situation as India… The death toll will skyrocket as Vietnam’s health system would be overloaded.”