Many regulations based on killing, not living with Covid: business associations

By Anh Minh   September 26, 2021 | 04:17 am PT
A draft guidance document on pandemic response still leans towards a "zero Covid" strategy instead of living safely with it, and this can inhibit economic development, businesses say.

In a joint statement sent to Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh Saturday, eight business associations in Vietnam said the guidance does not take into account variations in the pandemic situation among different regions in the country and shows a lack of flexibility.

The eight signatories to the statement were: the Food Transparency Association; Food and Foodstuff Association of Ho Chi Minh City; Association of High-Quality Vietnamese Products; Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association; Handicraft and Wood Industry Association of HCMC; Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers; Vietnam Plastics Association; and the Japan Business Association in Vietnam.

The Health Ministry document says rules will be based on three main indicators of Covid-19 safety adaptation assessment and four levels of pandemic risk and corresponding response measures, including: low risk – new normal, medium risk, high risk and very high risk.

The associations said the assessment indicators were "too tight" for infected areas, including conducting too many mass tests even after people there have already got two vaccine doses.

The guidance stipulates that a locality needs to have more than 80 percent of people over 50 fully vaccinated to be considered a low-risk area.

This means it would take HCMC two to three months to be able to reopen and if all three indicators are considered, the city would be deemed a very high-risk area even now.

Such regulations will "seriously affect the economy while wasting vaccines and lead to unnecessary waste of resources," the business associations said.

Shippers wait for their turn to get the new coronavirus test in HCMC, September 20, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Deliverymen wait for their turn to get the new coronavirus test in HCMC, September 20, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

HCMC has administered almost 9.2 vaccine doses for people over 18 and nearly 2.4 million have had two shots.

The ministry’s document also regulates that Covid-19 patients will only be allowed to isolate at home for treatment if they live in high risk or very high risk areas. All shopping centers and tourism activities will be suspended whenever a place is tagged very high risk.

"The rule to sending Covid-19 patients to centralized camps should be eliminated to switch to the new normal. The health sector should have specific guidelines to treat Covid-19 patients at home," the associations said.

They said that when switching to living with Covid-19, which means people have been fully vaccinated, it will cause a huge waste of resources and pressure for the healthcare system when Vietnam keeps sending all Covid-19 patients to centralized facilities.

They also said that the restrictions on traveling and engaging in public activities applied on those that have fully vaccinated and those that have already recovered from Covid-19 only because they live in an infected area are "unnecessary."

Everyone who has been fully vaccinated should be allowed to work, and appropriate pandemic control measures should be based on the occupancy rate of hospital beds and intensive care units in each locality, the associations said.

They also pointed to unreasonable rules on easing restrictions. The draft guidance document says that any place with less than 20 new cases among 100,000 people within a week would be classified as low-risk, regardless of the vaccination rate

This rule, businesses said, would pose a large threat in those so called low-risk localities in case a cluster appears, given that not many people living there have been vaccinated.

For now, 38 cities and provinces across the country are deemed to have "put the outbreak under control" and have eased social distancing restrictions after reporting continuous declines in the number of new cases, and not because they have a high vaccination rate.

The associations cited Hanoi as an example: at the threshold of 20 cases for every 100,000 residents, the capital city would report 230 new cases every day for its population of around eight million.

Over the past several months of the ongoing Covid-19 wave, Hanoi was recording 50-70 new cases each day, and it had taken the city nearly two months to impose the strictest social distancing measures.

A task force removes a makeshift barrier to blockade an area with Covid-19 in Thanh Xuan Bac Ward of Thanh Xuan District in Hanoi, September 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

A task force removes a makeshift barrier to blockade an area with Covid-19 in Thanh Xuan Bac Ward of Thanh Xuan District in Hanoi, September 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Flexible solutions

To coexist safely with Covid-19, the business associations proposed solutions whereby the strategy for pandemic control and economic recovery can be implemented in a flexible manner.

In the transition phase, which is expected to last from now until early next year, places with a high vaccination coverage rate should be allowed to reopen first.

In such places, there should be two categories separating areas for pandemic control.Category 1 would cover areas that are still dealing with community outbreaks. These will impose Directive 16, which bans all from going out except for "essential purposes."

However, travel restrictions should be removed for the fully-vaccinated and Covid-19 recoveries. Those two groups should also be allowed to go to work.

Also, regulations restricting economic activities should be removed and patients should be allowed to isolate themselves and be treated at home, except for severe cases that need hospitalization.

The healthcare sector must have specific guidance for businesses on what to do when employees get infected. Under no circumstance should the entire production and business establishment be shut down when cases are found.

Category 2 would apply to areas where the pandemic is spreading slowly or there is no outbreak where the transition to the new normal would take three to five months.

In case there are infections in the community, lockdown measures should be imposed at the smallest scale.

If the infection rate rises to more than 0.7 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants a day for one week in a row, the alert level will be raised but still, no large-scale blockade will be imposed. Areas in which people have been fully vaccinated will switch straight to the new normal and lift all lockdown measures.

For the phase of living with the virus, which is expected to start from the middle of the first quarter next year or earlier depending on vaccine coverage, each area will reopen depending on when they reach the national target of more than 70 percent of the population aged 18 and older being fully vaccinated.

While social distancing measures should be imposed in accordance with the pandemic situation, production and business activities, as well as public transportation, should be allowed to operate at full capacity at all pandemic levels.

Travel restrictions among regions, either for transporting passengers or goods, should be removed. The businesses also proposed that all centralized quarantine camps are closed and those who come into contact with a Covid-19 patient be asked to self-isolate at home.

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