Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chin signed on Saturday an official telegram to extend social distancing rules and other preventive measures to control the outbreak in the southern region.
Municipal and provincial authorities are tasked to ensure drastic and effective enforcement of policies previously approved by the government and the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control.
In the signed telegram, the national leader also said that localities currently under Directive 16 must seriously and consistently implement the directive and stricter restrictions could be imposed as the situation evolves.
All social distancing rules in accordance with the Directive shall continue to be imposed for another two weeks, starting August 2.
The localities to impose extended social distancing are Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Tay Ninh, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, and 13 Mekong Delta localities Can Tho, Tien Giang, Long An, Vinh Long, Dong Thap, Ben Tre, Hau Giang, An Giang, Bac Lieu, Soc Trang, Tra Vinh, Ca Mau and Kien Giang.
Localities, however, can ease restrictions gradually when the number of community-transmitted cases starts to drop.
Outbreak epicenter HCMC seeks help
When COVID-19 was first reported in Vietnam in 2020, HCMC was relatively spared from the brunt of the coronavirus waves. The city of over 10 million people lived with their uninterrupted routines, from going to their workplaces to hanging out in malls and public parks.
But since the fourth outbreak began on April 27, the southern city saw the rapid rise of local COVID-19 infections. Karaoke bars and buffet restaurants were gradually mandated to stop operations. By June, companies were already starting to adapt work from home setups. Directive 16 was officially enforced on July 9, preventing everyone from going out without essential and official reasons, and from gathering with more than two people in public areas.
As the social distancing mandate kept getting extended - from July 9 to July 23, then to August 1, and now to August 16, operations of public transportation systems as well as thousands of businesses have been suspended, as rising infections show no sign of slowing down.
Since April 27, Ho Chi Minh City has already recorded 88,285 cases. Total national tally stands at 137,317, affecting 62 out of 63 cities and provinces. Cao Bang is the only locality spared from the current wave.
On Friday, the government gave a go signal to mobilize hospitals and health centers to help treat COVID-19 patients and strengthen their emergency and intensive care capacity. Public and private health workers from around Vietnam have also been sent to the southern metropolis to assist an already overwhelmed healthcare system.
As lockdown measures also affected purchasing and delivery of essential goods, the local governments of HCMC and other localities vowed to continue providing support and assistance. All efforts are exhausted to immediately provide food to the poor or those without income. Many private organizations have also stepped up and have been distributing food packs to the disadvantaged and to locked down areas.
The Vietnamese government also pledged to speed up vaccination to priority groups, as well as to diversify vaccine supplies and to accelerate homegrown vaccine research, development and production.
Vaccine priority groups include: healthcare workers; those involved in pandemic prevention (members of steering committees, those working at quarantine areas or experts conducting epidemiological investigations); military and police officers; diplomatic officers; teachers and students; Custom and immigration officers, essential service providers in aviation, transport, tourism, electricity, and water; people with chronic illnesses; people aged over 65; residents in pandemic-hit areas; people on low-income, including pensioners, food sellers, market traders, builders, and informal workers; people who are sent by State agencies to work and study abroad; religious dignitaries; and other groups decided by the health minister or chairpersons of provincial-level People’s Committees or proposed by vaccine suppliers.
On Saturday morning, one million doses of Vero Cell vaccines were delivered to HCMC as part of a deal between a Saigon Pharmaceutical Company Limited and Sinopharm. Vietnam approved the emergency use of the vaccine on June 4.
HCMC aims to inoculate 99% of its adult population (18 years old and above) this year. So far, the city has already given one or two jabs to 1.5 million people.