TCSS Security Commentaries #019
Vietnam sees new lockdown restrictions due to rising COVID cases that threaten many lives of people in the Ho Chi Minh City and 19 provinces
Thuong Nguyen, Taiwan Center for Security Studies
The Re-Emergence of COVID-19 in Asia
In the region, COVID cases of Vietnam is surpassing its neighbours out of nowhere. Before the fourth wave, its infection cases are just behind that of Singapore and Cambodia. However, the number increased rapidly up to over 78,000 two days ago. Although the two countries also experienced a spike in new infections, the rate of increase is slow, and the number of infections increases insignificantly (Cambodia has over 825 new cases while Singapore has only 133 cases). While Cambodia and Vietnam continuously recorded new deaths (1,222 and 370 respectively), Singapore’s figure remains low during a week (36 deaths).
Despite strict restrictions, due to the shortage of vaccines and overpopulation, it is predicted that millions of people will be forced to isolate, or some being ordered to isolate by HCDC (Center for Disease Control) track and trace system. Vietnam so far only has 0.03 percentage of people vaccinated, which is the lowest comparing other countries in the region.
Moreover, because of the absence of pharmaceutical treatments and the demand for autonomy in disease control, the Vietnamese government is attempting to develop its COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Ministry of Health Portal, Vietnam bases on the technology standard of the US manufacturer to produce COVID-19 vaccine from mRNA essence.
Currently, Vietnam’s vaccine research center is entering Phase-III clinical trials and is expected to start production by the end of this year. However, due to the severe epidemic in Ho Chi Minh city, the production may start in early-2022. From a regional perspective, Taiwan also does not want to rely enormously on external vaccine supplies and is also developing its own vaccines (which has recently been granted EUA approval). CECC expert said that its Medigen “could be up to 90% effective against the virus,” and thus, many predictions suggested that doses of Medigen vaccine could be available as soon as this August.
Notably, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh suggested that Vietnam and the Philippines would cooperate to have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine source. The two leaders agreed that vaccines are a vital strategy to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and towards a sustainable socio-economic recovery.
Directive 16 issued and its impacts and ramifications
On Midnight July 19th, the capital of Hanoi and 19 other provinces and cities in the southern area, including Ho Chi Minh, the restrictions of Directive 16 were applied in response to the re-emergence of positive cases COVID-19. That means people must stay at home and minimize going out, except for necessary cases. Regulations for Directive 16 are as follows: Do not gather more than two people in public places, must keep a distance of at least 2 meters, and all businesses are closed 1. It is dissimilar to the initial period since implementing this Directive, as this time around it is far more stringent. As of August 2, Vietnam recorded nearly 158,000 cases while total deaths stand at 1,300; with 389 new deaths reported in the past 24 hours.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh is forging ahead with long-standing plans to move Ho Chi Minh City to the critical stage of pandemic management to stop the Delta variant spread quickly. Likely because it is the economic hub of the southern key region and the whole country.
Critics say the health system would not have to be significantly stressful and overload as it is now if the city applied Directive 16 from the beginning. However, since the fourth wave of COVID-19 broke out at the end of April, the city only applied mild control methods. As a result, after 40 days of unsuccessful social distancing, the number of infected cases increased rapidly and spread to many other areas. The disease prevention in Ho Chi Minh City showed too many shortcomings because of the inability to control the Revival Ekklesia Mission Vietnam, and anti-epidemic methods are not uniform in the whole country. Furthermore, the organization of vaccination campaign is virtually not guaranteed to do well.
Returning Restrictions to Combat the Growing Number of Cases in Vietnam
On July 9th, the city decided to implement a two-week lockdown under Directive 16. Due to recent complex chains of infection, government officials said social isolation based on Directive 16 is the most drastic and robust solution in the list of current legal documents. The city so far has 32 infection chains, including 9 chains from markets, 13 chains from residential areas, and 10 chains from companies and high-tech zones.
It was not as expected; after seven days did positive cases kept increasing drastically and more widespread. Therefore, at the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control meeting on July 18th, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and Deputy Minister Vu Duc Dam announced a new strategy:
Accordingly, 19 provinces and cities in the southern region will implement Directive 16 following “the Two-Pronged Motto” in which the first one concentrates forces in “Red Zones”, where the risk of disease is very high. The remaining one carries out screening with synchronous measures to keep the “Green Zones” safe and isolate the “Yellow Zones” for cleaning to become “Green Zones”.
The most recent data show that on July 23rd, Vietnam was fighting 7,295 cases and this infection figure was the highest record since the outbreak of early 2020. Particularly, the cases of Ho Chi Minh City were also the highest since the beginning with 4,913 cases, raising the total number of infections in Ho Chi Minh City to 50,474.
Currently, Directive 16 is the highest measure to prevent the COVID-19 epidemic in Vietnam (accompanied with unprecedented curfew rules), but it still has some shortcomings in terms of particular implementation documents or regular COVID-19 testing when moving from one to another causing costly and time-consuming. As the number of infections continuously increase, there is no other way but to rely on vaccination towards herd immunity. As of now, vaccine supply is still running dauntingly short.