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New Covid-19 situation, new behavior

In the new situation, social distancing may cover almost the whole country, affecting tens of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses, and the supply chain of the whole country or at least a large economic area will be broken.


People in Ho Chi Minh City queue at a supermarket very early on the morning of the first day the city imposed social distancing under Directive 16. Photo: Thanh Tung


Vietnam’s anti-epidemic results

Vietnam's Covid-19 fighting strategy focuses on three major points:

The first is tracing, zoning, isolating and creating proactive herd immunity; isolating itself from the world, isolating epidemic-hit areas from disease-free areas, isolating patients (F0) and those who have has close contact with Covid-19 patients (F1) from healthy people; restricting personal freedom for social safety; waiting to have enough vaccines to create active herd immunity; and expanding widespread vaccinations as quickly as possible.

The second is decentralization: decentralizing powers to local governments and the heads of relevant bodies in organizing measures to trace, isolate and eradicate the virus.

The third is the implementation of dual goals: both fighting the epidemic and maintaining economic growth.

This approach has worked well for the past one and a half year.

The new situation

However, the ongoing epidemic wave has a number of new features that can change the Covid-19 fight:

Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh from the Fulbright School commented: This time, the epidemic hits provinces and cities that are Vietnam’s economic centers that are densely populated, which are home to many industrial parks like the provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh in the north, Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong, Ba Ria Vung Tau, Dong Nai in the south and the whole Mekong Delta region and it is likely to gradually spread to the whole country. The disease is spreading very fast, in large areas, and it is harder to track F0 cases.

Internationally, a number of countries are considered to have successfully fought the epidemic such as the US, China and some European countries. The US has started talking about tightening its monetary policy as the threat of inflation has emerged after a long time applying anti-epidemic monetary and fiscal policies.

Does the anti-epidemic strategy need to be more flexible?

When the epidemic is only on a narrow scale, for example at industrial zones as the case of Bac Giang Province or in communes, only hundreds of thousands of people and several hundred businesses are affected and the supply chains of a few industries and a few localities are disrupted. In that situation, the general economy can surpass it.

The strategy of isolating and waiting for herd immunity through vaccination may fail when the number of patients has reached tens of thousands. The capacity for tracing, isolation and centralized treatment has reached the limit. Vietnam can't act like before when there were only a few dozen infected people.

If there is a delay in achieving herd immunity, while Vietnam is still struggling with the epidemic, major economies such as the US, China and Europe will stand up, their monetary policies will be tightened again and their markets as well as their currencies will become more attractive… and at that time Vietnam will face the risks of FDI inflows slowing down, inflation increasing, and others.

It is quite surprising that Vietnam had a budget surplus of nearly VND81 trillion in the first half of 2021, according to the General Statistics Office. Not to mention that the budget deficit ratio in 2020 fell compared to the previous year. In the first half of 2021, the total money supply increased by 3.5% (compared to 4.6% in the same period of 2020) and the trend of slowing monetary growth started before that.

It seems that in the past two years, Vietnam is afraid of hot growth, so fiscal and monetary measures have not been used fully to support people and businesses. Meanwhile, in 2020-2021, the whole world used both loose monetary and loose fiscal policies to assist the economy.

Should we change the way we fight against the pandemic?

In the new situation, social distancing may cover almost the whole country, affecting tens of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses, and the supply chain of the whole country or at least a large economic area will be broken.

Strategy reassessment is necessary. Recent changes seem to include an adjustment from the strategy of "tracing, zoning, isolating, waiting for vaccines" to "imposing social distancing to wait to have sufficient vaccines". This strategy is correct in the current situation because centralized quarantine can result in a rapid increase of F0 cases, which exacerbates overload and increases the fear of being isolated.

Vietnam needs to maintain the supply chain and ensure social security at all costs. If the supply chain of goods is broken without an alternative system on a large scale, it will push the economy into a recession and seriously degrade social security.

A broken supply chain will create short-term scarcity, resulting in goods speculation and then making a real scarcity of goods. That is the law of life, not just people's awareness. We should not blame the people who stockpile food because when the first two classes of needs - biological and safety - are threatened, they must defend themselves.

Taking care of the healthy is just as important as taking care of the sick. This is the best way to build trust in the system and the state. The greater the trust, the more effective the fight against the epidemic.

One of the measures to maintain trust is the transparency of policy. The more transparency, the more trust.

Economically, it is very important to avoid being delayed or out of phase with the recovery of the global economy: fiscal and monetary measures should be synchronized in supporting the economy during the fight against the epidemic.

Combining decentralization and centralization

As the heads of localities have to take responsibility if the epidemic spreads in their locations, it has urged them to only prioritize epidemic control in their localities. The effectiveness of fighting epidemics within localities is very high, but some localities easily ignore the overall benefit. Some localities easily become oases and that cuts the supply chain of the whole country.

Therefore, the Government should establish a steering committee to allocate human and material resources, make decisions on anti-epidemic measures, and direct the fight against the pandemic from central to local level.

Vu Minh

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