Dump ineffective Covid-19 restrictions, experts advise Hanoi

By Viet Tuan   September 8, 2021 | 04:29 pm PT
Dump ineffective Covid-19 restrictions, experts advise Hanoi
Vehicles are stuck at a Covid-19 checkpoint on Cau Dien Street of Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi, September 6, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Hanoi needs to get rid of ineffective coronavirus restrictions like new types of travel documents that fail to prevent congestion at checkpoints, experts say.

When the capital decided to separate the city into different areas based on the coronavirus risk factor, authorities decided to create a new type of travel document that utilizes QR codes and would be issued by the police.

While authorities initially planned to start checking for the new travel document starting Wednesday, the backlash from frustrated businesses and residents on the complicated procedures involved in getting the new papers resulted in a last-minute decision on Tuesday to let people use the old type of travel documents as well.

Hanoi now accepts both kinds of travel documents, and would eventually combine them into one document going forward, municipal Party Secretary Dinh Tien Dung said Tuesday.

Nguyen Si Dung, former deputy head of the National Assembly office, said that while restrictions are needed to prevent coronavirus infections, they should be carefully considered on multiple aspects. For instance, they should focus on the goal of preventing large crowds.

The new travel document has not been able to achieve this goal, he said. Online procedures may help prevent people from gathering at the offices of agencies to get the new papers, but would not help reduce traffic congestion at Covid-19 checkpoints, he added.

"With the presence of the Delta variant, even one or two infected people in a crowd would be enough to infect others," he said, proposing that Hanoi considers deploying automatic checkpoints that let people use QR codes to pass them.

Dung also noted that the costs that such policies will impose on people, businesses and administrations themselves should be taken into consideration. Restrictions that are too costly and time-consuming without providing proportionate effectiveness should be discarded, he said.

"The pandemic is an urgent issue. Policies may not need prior opinion from people and businesses, but their impacts need to be accounted for. Good policymakers should make policies with the least negative impacts on society," Dung said, adding that there needs to be flexibility when managing such a large city like Hanoi.

The capital should have coronavirus control measures that the people can understand and agree to, not restrictions that are simply imposed on the population.

"Such policies (that people can understand and agree upon) would be less costly and less likely to meet with adverse reactions from society. If policies that require extreme measures to implement continue to be used, there would not be enough resources to fight the coronavirus in the long run," he said.

Check on checkpoints

Nguyen Huy Nga, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, said he disagreed with Hanoi erecting 30 checkpoints to stop people moving from one area to another.

As only people performing essential tasks are allowed to go out, most people on the streets are those with legitimate reasons, he argued.

"Creating checkpoints that ban movements entirely would force people to choose the same routes, which would create congestion," he said.

Instead of creating such checkpoints, Nga said the city should monitor people's itineraries, their starting points and destinations, to ensure social distancing instead.

Dung also said such checkpoints would end up being costly and time-consuming for people because they would need to spend more hours on the road instead. After two years, the pandemic has already been hard enough on citizens and businesses alike, he added.

"Costs need to be minimized for people and businesses. More inflexible restrictions would not only be ineffective at fighting the virus, but also hurt the economy," he said.

Appropriate move

Tran Dac Phu, senior advisor with the Public Health Emergency Operations Center, said Hanoi separating areas based on coronavirus risks was an appropriate move.

Separating areas would help the city to impose appropriate coronavirus control measures, while taking into consideration the number of cases, infection risks, resumption of production and economic recovery, he said.

However, authorities need to make sure that people traveling from high-risk to low-risk areas are not spreading the disease, and vice versa, he added.

Nga, however, believed Hanoi's separation of areas was "too wide."

High-risk areas alone have already covered 10 whole districts: Tay Ho, Ba Dinh, Cau Giay, Hoan Kiem, Dong Da, Hai Ba Trung, Thanh Xuan, Ha Dong, Thanh Tri and Hoang Mai; and also certain areas in five others: Nam Tu Liem, Bac Tu Liem, Hoai Duc, Thanh Oai and Thuong Tin.

Such a wide net would make it difficult to achieve the desired level of effectiveness in fighting the virus, Nga said, proposing that the city divides areas based on medically-backed factors like testing and contact tracing results.

"For example, in hotspots, based on testing and contact tracing results, authorities could make the center of the hotspot a high-risk area, and areas with lower risks be located within 500-1,000m from the center," Nga said.

Hanoi, home to nine million people, has recorded 3,893 local Covid-19 cases in the fourth coronavirus wave since late April.

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