News - December 19, 2021 | 04:43 pm PT

2021: Eight defining events of the year

Here are the highlights of a year in which the coronavirus cast its malignant shadow over Vietnam.

Fourth Covid-19 wave

People light candles in Ho Chi Minh City on November 19 for those whose lives were taken away by Covid-19. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

On April 27 a receptionist at a hotel in the northern province of Yen Bai tested positive for the coronavirus. A week earlier a group of Indian engineers quarantined in the hotel. Four of them were later found infected.

The new cases were found just days before the Reunification Day-Labor Day holidays, when large numbers of vacationers traveled across the country. It was also the beginning of the fourth Covid-19 wave, the most deadly one which have infected over 1.5 million people and killed nearly 30,000.

The outbreaks quickly spread across the country, popping up in places with no obvious connections. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s economic locomotive, was hit especially hard with nearly 500,000 infections and over 19,000 deaths.

In response to the new wave the government imposed multiple, extended lockdown periods that lasted months as it sought to contain the spread. But the Delta variant with its high transmissibility forced the country to switch from a ‘zero Covid’ approach to living with the virus.

No school for 22 million students

Two girls share a single mobile phone to study online amid the pandemic in Can Tho. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Duy

An unprecedented pandemic warrants an unprecedented response: 22 million students in all grades have been told to study from home. Classes have been conducted online and lessons televised for those who could not afford devices or Internet connections for the online classes.

The annual national high school graduation examination also had to be reworked, with one round of tests held in July and another in August for those who could not attend the first due to lockdowns or quarantines.

People aged 18 and above were administered Covid-19 vaccines first, and only in late October did children aged 12-17 in Ho Chi Minh City get their first shots.

As Vietnam enters the ‘new normal,’ localities have begun to reopen schools in areas deemed to be at low risk of infection. However, a resurgence in cases has spurred some to return to online classes.

Key leaders take over new positions

(L to R) National Assembly chairman Vuong Dinh Hue, President Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh at the National Assembly on April 5, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

In January the 13th National Party Congress commenced and announced the names of newly elected Party Central Committee members, including 180 official and 20 alternate members.

They included Party chief and former President Nguyen Phu Trong and former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who were reelected as ‘special cases’ since they exceeded the stipulated age limit.

Trong was elected for a third term as Party General Secretary.

In July Pham Minh Chinh, then the secretary of the 12th Party Central Committee and head of the Central Organizing Commission, was elected as prime minister by the National Assembly. Phuc was elected president and Vuong Dinh Hue, secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee, was elected as National Assembly chairman.

In May more than 69 million people cast their votes to choose new National Assembly and people’s council members for the 2021-26 term, and 499 candidates won National Assembly seats, including four who were self-nominated.

Historic Covid-19 vaccination campaign

A woman receives a Covid-19 vaccine shot in Hanoi, September 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Vietnam began the largest vaccination campaign in its history in March, starting with frontline workers in the Covid fight like doctors, nurses, journalists, and soldiers before moving to other groups like older people and those with underlying conditions. The country has approved several vaccines, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Sinopharm, Sputnik V, and Abdala.

Vaccines were bought through commercial contracts, acquired through global vaccine access mechanism Covax and donated by governments.

Children aged 12-17 began getting shots in late October, starting in Ho Chi Minh City.

Around 77 million out of the country’s 98 million people have got at least one shot and 62 million have got two, and third doses are currently under way.

Workers’ exodus from industrial hubs

A woman sits on a wall waiting after she was stopped in Thu Duc City in HCMC’s eastern gateway while trying to return to her hometown on August 15. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Months of social distancing in the south left many workers unemployed, forcing them to make an exodus from cities and industrial hubs to their hometowns.

The General Statistics Office of Vietnam said around 1.3 million workers made their way back to their hometowns between July and mid-September. Tens of thousands more left HCMC and neighboring localities when they reopened in October.

"The fourth wave of Covid-19 infections has seriously affected the labor market," Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh told lawmakers last month.

The government aims to fix the labor shortage by the end of this year or early next year, he added.

Vietnam stock market reaches new high

An investor looks at stock prices on a screen at a brokerage in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Vietnam’ benchmark VN-Index had a bullish year, gaining over 34 percent and repeatedly rising to new highs despite Covid.

The index also saw some major falls, the first at the end of January when the third Covid outbreak began in the northern province of Hai Duong, forcing industrial parks to restrict operations.

But investors’ confidence in the government’s ability to contain the outbreak helped the index rebound in February, and the momentum continued for the next four months. It rose to 1,420 points in early July as a new temporary trading system developed by tech giant FPT to resolve the chronic overload was installed by the HCMC stock exchange.

But strict social distancing, mobility restrictions and limited manufacturing in July to cope with the fourth wave of Covid triggered panic selling, causing volatility in August and September, and the VN-Index closed the third quarter at around 1,340 points.

The government’s decision to live with Covid-19 and resume most economic activities in October helped the index shoot past the historic 1,500-point mark for the first time on November 25. The number of new retail investors in the first 11 months tripled from 2020 as bank deposit interest rates continued to remain low.

GDP contracts 6 pct in Q3

Workers in a garment factory in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

The fourth wave stymied Vietnam’s plans to achieve 6 percent growth this year as manufacturing and trade were hurt by supply chain disruptions.

The low base of 1.8 percent growth in the first half of 2020 served to push economic expansion in the first half of this year to 5.6 percent as industrial growth again approached pre-pandemic levels.

But as southern authorities restricted factories and set up checkpoints in July-September to prevent the movement of people, the economy recorded negative growth of 6.17 percent in the third quarter.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment has forecast growth of 3.5 percent this year and the Asian Development Bank has pegged it at 3.8 percent, but the World Bank expects the economy to rebound in the last quarter and growth of 4.8 percent.

For 2022, the National Assembly has set a target of 6-6.5 percent.

First metro launched in Hanoi

Passengers wait to board a train on the Cat Linh-Ha Dong metro line, Hanoi’s first, on November 6. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

The first metro in Hanoi and in Vietnam was launched in November after 10 years of construction with many delays and hurdles.

The Cat Linh-Ha Dong Metro Line, spanning 13 km, saw cost increased from the original estimate of VND8.78 trillion in 2008 to VND18 trillion ($868 million) in 2017.

After two weeks of free tickets, the Cat Linh-Ha Dong Metro Line recorded over 110,000 passengers from Nov. 21 to Nov. 27, an average of 16,000 people a day, down 36 percent from the free-of-charge period. The metro's designed capacity is around 217,000 passengers a day, according to Hanoi Metro.

Phan Anh, Dat Nguyen