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Red tape hampers aid as Covid grips HCMC

By Le Tuyet, Thi Ha   November 12, 2021 | 01:00 am PT
Red tape hampers aid as Covid grips HCMC
Containers with 20,000 formula cans donated to HCMC children are stuck at Cai Lai Port, November 11, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Thi Ha
Overseas donations meant to aid HCMC during its latest Covid outbreak have yet to leave port due to complicated customs procedures.

In early August, a Vietnamese Australian contacted Ho Chi Minh City Fatherland Front Committee, offering to donate six secondhand ventilators to support Covid-19 treatment in the city. In Vietnam, the front is in charge of receiving and distributing charity donations, among other tasks.

Costing nearly VND1.7 billion ($75,466), the equipment produced in the U.S. and still under warranty was accepted by the committee.

To Thi Bich Chau, its chairwoman, said by then, HCMC was at the height of its outbreak, which hit the city in late May.

However, as regulated, secondhand medical equipment is banned from imports.

The Ministry of Health only granted permits to import used medical tools for the purpose of training and research.

City authorities had subsequently written to the government, explaining the situation but was met with strict opposition.

"Until now, the six ventilators are still at the port, and the donor is very upset since the support could not benefit anyone," said Chau.

The same situation involved 20 ambulances manufactured in 2015 donated by a South Korean organization in August.

The law only allows the import of ambulances made from 2019.

For that reason, the committee had to refuse the donation, even as the city faced an ambulance shortage during July and August.

In other cases, 22,000 formula cans for children provided by a community of overseas Vietnamese in Australia and 4,000 boxes of vitamin D donated by another Vietnamese group in the U.S. were left locked in containers at Cat Lai Port in Thu Duc City.

Chau said for each shipment, the committee has to go through at least three state agencies to get a grip on procedures.

For example, formula must be approved by Vietnam Food Association under the Ministry of Health while ambulances need approval from the Ministry of Transport.

In addition, though the goods are donated, if their value surpasses the level subject to import tax exemption, recipients must pay the tax, which involves taxation authorities.

"It takes a lot of time and effort to get one shipment through customs clearance, but eventually, everything’s still stuck at port and we’re not sure if they’re still safe for consumption."

HCMC is the epicenter of Vietnam’s fourth Covid-19 wave, which emerged in the nation in late April.

So far in the wave, the city has recorded 443,815 infections, or half of the nation’s tally. Of them, almost 17,000 have lost their lives.

Under outbreak impacts, many families have been hit economically hard as they lost livelihoods to social distancing measures that had been in effect for four months from late May.

Chairwoman Chau said as the outbreak in the city has yet to be controlled, more organizations and individuals would want to make donations in the coming time.

Therefore, the city’s Fatherland Front Committee has proposed the government provides specific guidance for each group of goods donated from abroad so related agencies could join hands to solve the issue.

From July until now, the committee has received cash and medical equipment worth more than VND2.7 trillion ($119 million) from different sources to help HCMC fight the pandemic.

 
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