Vietnam on Saturday started re-implementing lockdown measures in Hanoi, as the country hit a new record high of nearly 10,000 COVID-19 cases.
In a bid to stop another spread of local cases in the capital, the government has put the city of eight million under Directive 16 for 15 days. Ho Chi Minh City and other localities in the southern region have been under tough social distancing restrictions since the start of July.
The expanded lockdowns, now affecting more than 18 provinces, have forced a third of Vietnam’s 98 million people to stay at home.
“The announcement about Hanoi’s lockdown came as a surprise. My family hasn’t stored up food supplies, and going out is tough especially because the supermarket is quite far,” said Mai, a resident of Hanoi. “But I agree with their decision. It’s for our safety.”
Like Mai, Bill Triffet also thinks reimposing restrictions is an effective way to curb the spread of coronavirus.
“Without a reliable vaccine supply, this is their only hope now,” he wrote on Twitter.
Under Directive 16, people are only allowed to go out for essential reasons such as buying food and medical supplies. Gatherings larger than two people are strictly not permitted. Public transportations such as buses and ride-hailing services have been suspended.
Only government offices, hospitals and selected essential businesses are allowed to stay open.
"Due to the rapid and unpredictable nature of the Delta variant and in order to protect people and minimize deaths, city authorities have decided to strengthen a number of measures to control the outbreak," Ho Chi Minh City's governing body said in a statement.
In Hanoi, stricter measures have been imposed, with motorbike delivery services now banned. Deliveries of essential goods are still allowed in Ho Chi Minh.
The Ministry of Health said Saturday’s cases reached 9,225, bringing the total number of infections to around 90,900. The national Covid-19 tally since the new wave has already reached 87,141.
Harder to control
Last year, Vietnam was one of the few economies that expanded due to its successful outbreak management. The country was also tagged as the safest country to live in, and maintained high scores in Bloomberg’s Resilience Index.
But when the third wave of local infections began in late January, Vietnam saw its ranking slid down. The northern provinces of Hai Duong and Quang Ninh, where the outbreak began, were swiftly put into lockdown. The city of Danang in the central region was also forced to impose social distancing measures.
The outbreak was gradually brought under control, and by early March, affected localities were already easing restrictions to bring back economic vigor and allow the flow of goods and services.
But this present outbreak, which has already affected the country’s economy with factory closures and lockdowns, is unlike the previous waves of COVID-19 Vietnam had experienced.
Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said the outbreaks in 2020 and even the one in January were all resolved within a month, but the Delta variant present in the fourth wave has made it harder to control as it spreads two to three times faster.
The Delta variant, first detected in India, could attach tightly to host cells, rapidly multiply in large numbers in the cells and then destroy the cells, and spread pathogens to the environment in a short time. An infected person could now transmit the virus to others in a matter of two days.
It has the potential “to be more lethal because it’s more efficient in the way it transmits between humans and it will eventually find those vulnerable individuals who will become severely ill, have to be hospitalized and potentially die,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program.
The Delta strain was first detected in northern Yen Bai province before spreading to Bac Giang province in the north.
Vietnam's slow progress in its vaccination program is also contributing to the resurgence of local cases. The country has obtained only 8.6 million doses, inoculating 4.41 million people. Only 334,000 of whom have gotten two doses so far.
Due to supply and financial constraints, the government launched a fundraising campaign in June. Several private organizations and millions of Vietnamese citizens here and abroad supported the initiative. Based on July 5 data, the government has already amassed more than VND8 trillion ($348.9 million). Foreign governments like Japan and the US have also extended help by sending millions of vaccine doses straight to hard-hit Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.