September 30, 2021
“Many won't die from the disease but being unable to make a living," Vu Van Tien, President of Geleximco Group gave his view at a meeting with the government last week to stress the need of reopening the economy, noting that it’s time for enterprises to “save themselves”.
In a letter sent to the government recently, four business chambers warned that Vietnam would miss the chance of hosting multinationals diversifying their supply chains out of China and might lag behind global economic recovery.
At least 20% of their members have shifted some manufacturing activities to another country, and more discussions are underway, according to AmCham, EuroCham, KoCham, and US-ASEAN Business Council in a petition sent to the government. Once the supply chain has been shifted, it would be difficult for these companies to return, they added.
A survey by the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Vietnam (AHK Vietnam) shows that “67% of German companies are planning to find new or additional suppliers in other countries, mainly in Asia-Pacific”. Marko Walde, AHK’s Chief Representative, told The Hanoi Times that many German companies are concerned that the current outbreak has affected their business operations, due to the social distancing measures and mobility restrictions between cities and provinces.
Obviously, there is a need to switch measures to safely adapt to the pandemic situation.
The shift in approach has been stressed by Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh more than once. "We cannot stay in isolation and social distancing regimen forever because the difficulty these measures pose to society and economy is huge," he said at a meeting with medical experts early this month.
The government leader said vaccines and drugs will make up a "long-term strategy and decisive tools".
“We must adapt and find suitable ways to respond to the situation”, he added.
In a recent government meeting, Chinh once again stressed: “Fighting the pandemic is not just setting up physical barriers and restriction”, while unveiling that around Sept. 30, safe localities can ease Covid restrictions and restart business and social activities.
It also reflects a mindset that was adopted in many other countries, which shows that it is not realistic to attain a "zero-Covid " (meaning a complete eradication of coronavirus) goal.
With Vietnam shifting its focus to adapting to the “new normal” amid the pandemic, experts and businesses agree with the government's move to reopen and revive the economy after months of restrictions but affirm that vigilance and proper control measures are needed for the move to succeed.
In this path, vaccination still plays an important role.
“Large-scale vaccination program has been the most effective measure to achieve the dual goal of containing the Covid-19 pandemic and securing economic development, which was committed by Vietnamese government”, Marko reminded.
With the same spirit, Dr. Yee Chung Seck – partner from Baker & McKenzie (Vietnam) said that the key to re-open the economy in a safe and measured manner is a series of elements that work at the same time- and the most important of which is to obtain and deploy vaccines as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
“This is largely a governmental effort, and it is encouraging to see vaccines being rolled out in areas of high infection rates and sizable population, and in particular within industrial zones where there is a large number of workers and businesses, and where a significant amount of jobs and revenue are created,” Dr. Chung wrote in an email to The Hanoi Times.
Vietnam, with a population of 98 million, has been accelerating its vaccine program. So far, 94% of the 5.75 million people in the adult population of the capital, Hanoi, have received one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. All of them are expected to get the second dose by the end of November, said deputy chairman of the Hanoi People's Committee, Duong Duc Tuan.
Meanwhile, more vaccines have arrived in the country and the government expected the amount would be around 90 million doses by the end of the year.
In long term, an overall improvement in the healthcare system and access to equipment, services, and medicines, has been recommended by the experts. “Even as vaccines are being deployed, it is unrealistic to expect that there will be zero Covid-19 cases”, Baker & McKenzie’s partner warned.
Based on the vaccination timeline, Marko from AHK believes the reopen should come in two main phases.
In the initial phase, issuing green cards for fully vaccinated people and allowing them to resume economic activities and social interactions in certain sectors are the most important measures.
“The Vietnamese authorities should consider relaxing some social distancing rules in major southern provinces, especially the country’s largest Covid-19 epicenter – Ho Chi Minh City -based on the speed of vaccination and the healthcare system’s capacity”, Marko stated.
In the second phase, local authorities should allow other essential business sectors to resume operation based on the level of Covid-19 exposure risk and their commitment to follow the 5K prevention measures, according to the German chamber’s leader.
So far, the pandemic epicenter and business hub Ho Chi Minh City has been gradually reopening its economy with more shippers allowed to work and relaxed shopping restrictions in some areas, while some districts, including Can Gio District, having received visitors. But social distancing rules will continue to be in place until the end of this month. Meanwhile, Hanoi has just eased its social distancing rules from Sept. 21.
Chung reiterated that the Vietnamese government has rolled out essential services and activities under which relevant persons are allowed an appropriate level of mobility. “This will need constant monitoring and fine-tuning as it is not possible to have a one-size-fits-all approach”, Baker Mc Kenzie’s partner noted.
In particular, and for example, Chung said, for production facilities that require thousands of employees on-site, continued monitoring and dialogue with the businesses are needed to see how best to implement safety measures on transporting, housing, or regular testing of employees, in order to safely continue operations.
The expert believes that, apart from access to medicine and pharmacies (which are allowed to remain open), the food industry - from supermarkets to food shops, eateries and restaurants - should be the next sector that sees a gradual re-opening, for example in allowing deliveries.
“This will help ease the anxiety that the population would have if they feel they are not able to buy food with some level of ease,” Chung said.
In terms of which sectors to open first, Marko suggested that healthcare, utilities, agriculture, manufacturing, public administration and defense, information and communication, and financial insurance services should be on the list.
He also draw out some ideas for the government to boost activities in the commerce and industrial areas, based on the principle of providing short-term relief for businesses. “We can consider maintaining employment for citizens, adjusting taxation system, and providing liquidity support to prevent them from closing or bankruptcy”, he recommended.
Above all, it’s believed that the path would neither be speedy nor easy, but achievable.
Dr. Chung said that the safe and gradual re-opening of the economy and the way of life is possible and essential, though it would take focus, patience, and concerted efforts of the Government, community leaders, businesses, and the population in order to achieve successful outcomes.
“Vietnam and the people are no strangers to adversity and have overcome many difficulties before”, the expert with 20 years working in the country, said.
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