The street of Huynh Tan Phat, which runs from District 7 to Nha Be, used to be a bustling long stretch of urban road, filled with different stores and enterprises - from big supermarkets to fashion outlets, restaurants, and banks. Today, most of the stores have their steel doors rolled down. It’s been more than a month since they suspended operations and services, and it seems they may have to endure a little longer.
Ho Chi Minh City, the epicenter of Vietnam’s fourth COVID-19 outbreak, has already reported more than 150,000 community infections, out of the 279,630 cases since April 27. As cases continue to grow, stricter social distancing measures are imposed across the commercial capital. Last Sunday, authorities officially extended strict measures for another month, until September 15. While these measures have helped to the faster identification and isolation of coronavirus cases, it can’t be denied that they have also greatly hurt the city’s economy and the livelihoods of its residents.
To gradually restart economic activities and the flow of services and goods in the city, HCMC authorities announced on Monday that they are considering allowing 5-10% of the local enterprises to resume operations, granting they apply any of these four operating models the government has set.
Three on the spot
Workers will have to work, eat and rest within one place, inside factories for example, to limit their movement. This will ensure that all employees are monitored, and have no physical contact with other people outside of the workplace.
One route for two locations
Companies or enterprises have to organize a unified mode of transportation for all employees from their collective living quarters and then back.
“Green” means coronavirus-free. “Green” workers are allowed to travel on their own vehicles from their “green” residence through “green” routes to their “green” work sites. Employees or anyone coming to the workplace are not permitted to stop anywhere or go through areas in lockdown or have confirmed coronavirus cases.
Combination of all three models
Businesses can operate using all three models to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of their employees, and to avoid any physical contact with others who may be infected with the virus.
All of these models are deemed the most effective way for Ho Chi Minh City to resume economic activities. With all the store closures and production delays caused by the enforcement of Directive 16, the city-wide lockdown has already impacted global supply chains. Allowing the resumption of business operations will be the only way for the city’s economy to recover.
But all these models presented by the authorities are costly, especially for large factories and enterprises employing thousands of workers.
Textile and food factories and the manufacturing sector have continued limited operations throughout the lockdown period. They’ve allowed a fraction of their workforce to sleep in tents inside the factories or in nearby hotels. This means companies are bearing the cost for the accommodation, food, and the shuttles for transportation, on top of the salaries and COVID-19 tests.
A report from VnExpress detailed the expenses of the work-from-factory model applied by Thanh Cong, a textile company in Tan Phu District. COVID-19 tests alone have cost the company over VND2 billion ($87,900) so far. It also has to pay each worker an extra VND80,000 a day and has spent VND1 billion on setting up their sleeping area. The company has about 2,200 workers staying in the factory premises. However, as homesickness mounted, as many as 400 have returned home.
Metal gear producer Kem Nghia in Cu Chi was also forced to let their workers go home after two weeks of staying on site. The company invested VND600 million for the model to work.
About 700 enterprises in HCMC had their workers work and stay on site or provide transportation, to avoid further disruptions of operations. However, as the lockdown continues, the model has been proven to be ineffective, with many companies reporting more losses than gains in the past month.
HCMC has over 1.6 million factory workers, with over 320,000 of them in industrial parks and manufacturing zones.
Companies are now asking the government for speedy vaccination of employees so they can continue to work and go home as normal. Many factory owners said they are willing to pay for the cost of hiring vaccination services. Businesses in Saigon Hi-Tech Park hope to buy vaccines by coordinating with medical organizations or their parent companies in the US and Europe, where there’s ample supply of COVID-19 vaccines.