Vietnam’s fourth wave of local infections caught many by surprise. Just as when cities and towns were starting to show signs of recovery — unblocking roads for inter-provincial travel and removing cordons from alleys — from the third wave that started on January 28, fresh COVID-19 cases spurred a new outbreak by the end of April.
Before the latest outbreak, Vietnam’s worst to date, the country was highly praised for smashing outbreaks swiftly, with only a little above 3,000 cases and 35 deaths by early May. But as of this writing, it’s already gone past 13,500 cases and 69 deaths.
“I thought we were over this pandemic. In April, I was already going to my regular Sunday mass, and ate out with friends without fear. Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” says Saigon-based interpreter Hanh.
Based on the latest data released by YouGov, an international research and data analytics company, two-thirds, or 66%, of Vietnamese reported feeling “very scared” of contracting the virus during this latest wave. A further 25% said they’re “fairly scared”, especially after health authorities initially reported that the outbreak may be caused by a new and more dangerous variant. The World Health Organization already clarified that the variant thought to be a combination of the Indian and UK strains is not a hybrid but part of an existing Indian strain.
Because of their fears, many have taken serious steps to protect themselves and their families. More than 80% of the respondents said they’re wearing face masks when in public; some 76% said they are regularly washing their hands and using sanitizers, as well as avoiding crowded places as much as possible.
Social distancing is the next most popular measure, with 71% of people keeping at least two meters apart. Meanwhile, around two-thirds of respondents (65%) are avoiding public transport and one third (33%) are working from home.
There is also strong public support for strict measures to contain the spread of the virus. When asked what the government should do in response to this fourth wave, 83% supported quarantining people who are ‘F1’ — those who have been in contact with a confirmed case. Coming in a close second, with 80% approval, is support for quarantining areas where known cases have been. However, while there is strong public support for quarantining all passengers arriving into Vietnam (72%), just half of respondents (54%) want to stop inbound flights altogether.
Despite their fear of the virus, people retain a high degree of confidence that Vietnam will be able to contain this latest outbreak as it has with the previous three waves. Over half of respondents (54%) reported “a lot of confidence”, with a further 36% having “a fair amount of confidence”. This adds up to nine in ten people having faith that Vietnam can overcome this latest outbreak.
Changing consumer behavior
With social distancing measures strictly implemented and public transportation have either been fully stopped or reduced, many companies have yet again ordered work from home set-ups among their employees. 69% of the respondents in YouGov’s survey said they’re working at the safety of their homes at least half of the time in June.
As people opt to stay indoors, two-thirds (62%) of consumers have stocked up on supplies, eventually leading to the decline in overall consumer spending in physical stores.
Overall consumer spending has fallen both in stores and online. However, the decline was more pronounced in traditional bricks-and-mortar shops where 57% of consumers reported spending less. That compares to 53% who spent less online. Looking at individual categories, the biggest drop was seen in ‘clothing’ with a 58% fall online and a 62% fall in stores. On the other hand, the strongest increase was seen in ‘groceries’ with a 36% increase online and a 38% rise in stores, reads the YouGov report.
With social distancing forcing people to spend more time at home, Vietnam has also seen a rise in e-commerce transactions. YouGov asked consumers about their preferred method of payment. E-wallets came out on top with 38%. Bank transfers (23%) came in second, just ahead of cash-on-demand (21%) in third.
Along with this shift in consumer behavior is the reported worsening financial situation of many Vietnamese, with half of the respondents (49%) said their income is more unstable today than it was six months ago.
However, reflecting the strong degree of confidence that Vietnam will overcome this fourth wave, 44% predict that the financial situation will be better in the next six months, with a further 34% predicting stabilization.