It looks like Vietnam is starting to regain its reputation as a pandemic “success story.” Nikkei’s latest COVID-19 recovery index shows the country in second place, right after Cambodia, as the Southeast Asian neighbors “are well on their way back to business as usual.”
Vietnam jumped to the top 2 from 14th a month earlier, thanks to a consistent decline in coronavirus infections and deaths. The country has been recording an average of 600 to 700 cases daily, with nearly zero deaths — this despite the detection of highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant in June.
The index assesses countries’ and regions’ infection management, vaccine rollouts, and social mobility. The higher the ranking, the closer a place is to recovery, characterized by lower infection and death rates, better inoculation coverage, and fewer restrictions on movement.
Vietnam scored a total of 76.5, while first placer Cambodia scored 78. Vietnam’s improving per-case fatality rate helped it gain another six points in the infection management category of the index.
Despite its total score being the highest, Cambodia ranked the lowest when it came to flight activity, together with Hong Kong, which came in 53rd place.
Vietnam fully reopened its borders and restarted major economic activities in mid-March. The country has since then seen increasing trade and tourist flow, as well as improvement in foreign direct investments, manufacturing outputs, and construction rate.
In the second quarter of the year, Vietnam saw its fastest growth pace in a decade after GDP accelerated to 7.72%. This has led international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and HSBC to give more positive projections for Vietnam’s economic growth for the rest of the year.
The country was referred to as a success story in 2020, having responded strategically when the coronavirus was detected in China, which it shares land borders with. Vietnam closed all borders, banned entry of foreigners, and implemented third-degree contact tracing. With the government’s decisive and targeted approach to keeping the virus at bay, the Vietnamese were ranked the most optimistic about the future. In 2020, the economy expanded by 2.9%.
But COVID isn’t over yet
While Vietnam and Cambodia are already enjoying some sense of normalcy after the two-year disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, other countries are now grappling with the challenges brought by the new Omicron subvariants. The concern is growing as the BA.4, and BA.5 subvariants of the omicron strain spread at a very intense level, driving new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths worldwide.
“So, is COVID-19 over? No, it’s most definitely not over,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during the World Health Assembly in late May. “I know that’s not the message you want to hear, and it’s definitely not the message I want to deliver.”
China, which ranked 38th in the index, has tough lockdowns in some major cities and provinces. China’s unbending zero-COVID policy is also affecting other countries, like Vietnam, that depend on it for a steady flow of tourists.
Nikkei pointed out that it’s still a “long route back to business as usual,” considering how the pandemic is evolving.
For scheduled flights — which are major indicators of a country’s pandemic recovery — wealthy economies such as Japan, South Korea, and Singapore are still far from achieving their pre-pandemic levels. For Vietnam, the change in scheduled flights between July 2019 and July 2022 stood at -60%.
Global financial institutions have also warned Vietnam to stay vigilant and take a cautious approach to beat economic challenges.