A View of Life Under Vietnam's Pandemic Containment Strategy
Vietnam is in the midst of battling its fourth wave of COVID-19. Prior to the latest outbreak of the virus, life across Vietnam had largely returned to pre-pandemic normal. People were free to gather in crowds, go a pub with friends, and travel across the country.
This changed during the national holiday break at the end of April. Confirmed cases of the virus started appearing across the country. According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has continued to climb since the disease's reappearance roughly one month ago.
Photo powered by Google. Data from Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
This article will answer some common questions I'm often asked about Vietnam's anti-virus measures and how they effect life at the individual level. The following is influenced from my own experience as an international guest and university lecturer based in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
Vietnam's anti-pandemic measures vary significantly across the country; strategically adapting to the pandemic situation at the local level. As a result, people living in small towns with no recorded cases of the virus will have life more closely reflect pre-pandemic normal than a large city, such as Da Nang, where the virus situation is currently more serious.
Are All Businesses Closed?
Many non-essential businesses are required to temporarily close across the city. This includes businesses such as movie theaters, gyms, and bars. Some services remain open, but are required to take additional steps in order to ensure the safety of staff and customers. For example, when I recently went shopping at H&M, I was required to wear a mask, use hand sanitzer, and receive a temperature check by a security guard.
In general, the government sets the minimum standardards, but private businesses can enhance anti-pandemic measures if needed. For example, some stores are requiring hand sanitzer even though the government is not mandating it.
Can Pandemic Measures Change Quickly?
Absolutely. Government regulations are updated continuously while active cases of the virus are present. As of late May, restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City are only able to serve takeout and delivery. Things change fast. Sometimes there is a warning period. And in other cases new rules go into effect immediately.
In Vietnam there is the cultural-political belief that it is the government's duty to protect the people from the virus. If the government feels they need to act immediatey to ensure public safety, then they will.
Is Everyone Working Online?
Many companies have moved their businesses online. Some organizations however are hesitant to entirely move their operations online due to the high cultural value Vietnam places on being physically present at work. From my own experience this can be mitigated if someone's work is easily measurable.
Take teachers for example. K-12 and higher education have moved online to keep students and faculty safe. But this type of work is also easily measurable. Administrative functions such as office work are not as easily quanitifiable.
Eddie's, a popular American restaurant in downtown Saigon, moves services to delivery only.
Were People Ready for a Next Wave?
The silver lining of Vietnam's fourth wave is that society has largely adapted to transitioning between normal and pandemic-oriented life. By now most organizations have crafted their own anti-virus regulations such as limiting the number of people at the office and moving work online. This helps prevent the potential spread of the virus and keeps organizations in line with the government's anti-pandemic measures.
Take the example of AmCham (American Chamber of Commerce) Vietnam. Shortly before I joined the organization AmCham invested in high-quality conference technology to support hybrid meetings. The new technology allows committees to have user-friendly hybrid meetings where members can both virtually and physically attend. One of the positive outcomes of this new investment is that even in non-pandemic situations, members are choosing to stay engaged both virtually and in-person. Businesses now have a choice in how they choose to participate and stay active in AmCham.
As Ho Chi Minh City prepares for what appears to be another rough patch, people continue to be hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel. In August 2020 there was a serious outbreak of the virus in Da Nang - the largest city in the central portion of the country. After calls for a "Wuhan-style" lockdown, life was eventually able to return to normal. As we've seen in previous waves, the next couple weeks aren't like to be fun, but the sooner the nation's able to stamp out the virus, the sooner our lives will be able to return back to normal in Vietnam.
About the author:
Alexander Parini is a lecturer and public affairs specialist at Hoa Sen University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He is a member of AmCham Vietnam's Digital Economy and Technology Committee. He graduated with his Master's in International Relations from Peking University in Beijing, China. Before moving to Asia, he worked in U.S. politics and studied Political Science at Portland State University.