Until late April 2021, Vietnam had successfully managed to keep the COVID-19 pandemic under control, so much so that the country had been heralded as a major beneficiary of the crisis, as highlighted in our Year in Review 2020/Q1.
As the situation progressively deteriorated over the course of 2021, affecting the social and economic fabric holding the country together, Indochina Legal is dedicating a series of publications providing insights into key aspects of the development of the pandemic in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s initial success
As the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the world into an unprecedented crisis, Vietnam has been internationally hailed as a model for handling the pandemic, taking a wide variety of preventive and proactive measures to ensure the successful containment of the virus, including:
- Cancelling flights to from/to Wuhan as soon as January 2020
- Launching a locally developed application to aid contact tracing
- Introducing “5K’s rules”
- Practicing physical distancing
- Travel bans on foreign visitors
- Circuit breaker lockdowns
- Mandatory tests and a 14-day quarantine period for international arrival
- Massive testing campaign throughout the country
- School closures
- Public event cancellations
Thanks to its immediate and determined response to stop the propagation of the virus, and despite neighboring China where COVID-19 was first detected, Vietnam stood out across the world as one of the countries with the lowest number of contamination cases. As of 9 March 2021, the country had only reported a total of 2512 cases and 35 deaths.
Since late April 2021, the fast spreading Delta variant has dramatically changed the situation. As of 23 August 2021, the country reported a total of 348,059 cases and 8,277 deaths, revealing an alarming spate of community transmissions.
The country’s highest spike of cases reported in a single day – over 13,417 on August 21 – is five times higher than the overall number of cases registered in the first year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic (up to March 2021), demonstrating that the past successful strategy is no longer as effective. Indeed, the reason for the country’s current hardship is likely to be the same as for its past success: the fight against COVID-19 relied solely on contact tracing and isolation. Nevertheless, Vietnam is on its way to extend its previous success in containing the pandemic to its vaccination campaign. In just two months (July-August 2021), the number of people that received at least one dose of vaccine went from 3.7% to 15.2% of the population.
In this ongoing wave, Ho Chi Minh City has been hit the hardest. Despite strict lockdowns being implemented since 31 May 2021, the country’s economic hub has now become COVID-19’s epicenter. In an effort to control the pandemic by mid-September, the city has tightened circulation restrictions from 23 August until 6 September 2021. Under the latest decision of the People’s Committe of HCMC, people in areas classified as “high” (orange) and “very high” (red) COVID-19 risks are not allowed to go outside, having food and essential products delivered to them by the authorities (in some areas, the Army), while people in safe (green) and low-risk (yellow) areas are only allowed to go out once a week to buy food and medicine, or in cases of extreme emergency. In addition, the city is aiming to administer at least one dose of vaccine to over 70% of the city’s population by the end of the month.
Similar surges of COVID-19 are observed in all Southeast Asia, but remain lower in Vietnam. The country can still claim to be among the countries with the lowest number of cases and deaths despite being the 15th most populous country in the world.
Nonetheless, Vietnam renewed its commitment to prioritize health above any other concerns, having once again reacted with a swift response, deploying all available means to curb the wave of contaminations, including mass testing and the now usual contact tracing, isolation and mass quarantine. If such drastic measures will be decisive in this ongoing outbreak, the country’s vaccination strategy plays an essential part of the long-term solution.