Patients and their caregivers leave a hospital in Hải Phòng City after lockdown is lifted. — VNS Photo An Đăng
In an interview with Vietnamnet online newspaper, Dr. Nguyễn Đức Kiên, Head of Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc's Economic Advisory Council, provides recommendations Việt Nam needs to consider in preventing and controlling COVID-19 as vaccinations are being expanded.
Việt Nam has implemented the dual task of pandemic containment and economic development. Could you share your thoughts on the economic landscape under the impacts of COVID-19?
In the first two months of this year, production activities still continued and Việt Nam enjoyed a trade surplus, but it was mainly based on the FDI sector, while domestic enterprises recorded a trade deficit. The FDI sector accounted for 76 per cent of total export turnover. This helped to stabilise production but also showed that Vietnamese enterprises were too slow in joining value chains.
Investors in the stock market in the last few months of 2020 and first two months of this year still enjoyed high profits.
The finance sector responded quite well to the pandemic and enterprises that use a large number of employees like textile and garments, leather and footwear, also handled the situation well.
However, the problem was in small and micro enterprises and household enterprises. Employees of these companies were affected heavily as the companies didn’t fully perform social welfare obligations to their employees.
Currently an economic stimulus package is being considered. What do you think about this?
As of May 2020, about 32 million employees were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Government’s support covered only a few months so they had to live off their savings.
Many people lost all their savings to the pandemic. In a street of Hà Nội where we conducted a survey, about 200 people lost their jobs because of business closures. I asked if these people considered returning to their hometown, but their hometown was under lockdown and they still had to pay the rent here, so they would rather stay here and look for jobs than return to their hometown.
Social security policy needs to include employees working in 5 million household enterprises and 8 million farming households. We need to re-consider the benefits for these business sectors so they can reach government support in case of adversities.
Each locality has their own way of disbursing the state budget. In HCM City, locals received grants in May yet it was slower in other localities. The problem was in the way the stimulus package was implemented.
Resolution 42 that aimed to support employees and businesses affected by COVID-19 was issued in April 2020. It would have been more effective if it had been disbursed earlier. But it was not disbursed until June.
So, the policies must be implemented in a prompt manner. We have measures but there are always problems in the implementation process.
What are your forecasts for the future when we continue to implement the dual tasks of pandemic containment and economic development?
The Government’s task in the next six months is working on measures to support enterprises, not only focusing on state investment like in 2020. Banks’ reduced interest rates in early March helped.
What is more, the buying power of the international market has grown and Việt Nam needs to change. The number of international visitors to Việt Nam in the first two months of this year decreased by 99 per cent compared to the same period last year.
If there is no drastic change, we will lose another tourism season. Tourism and other sectors contribute a great share to GDP. If these sectors can’t recover then our entire economy will take a long time to recover.
Pandemic control policies have huge impacts on businesses and livelihoods of locals people. We can see this from the recent outbreak in Hải Dương Province. What do you think?
Experience from Hải Dương showed that the economic losses caused by the pandemic are huge and it will have long-term impacts on the lives of local farmers and vulnerable groups.
Over the past year, we can somehow envision these impacts but are fully aware of the harsh effects from the experience in Hải Dương.
A crucial task for the Government is to offer support with limited budget without missing out anyone or any business.
How can we ensure a balance between pandemic control and economic development?
Let’s have a look at the COVID-19 treatment regime of Việt Nam and other countries'. In the United States or European countries, COVID-19 patients have to be treated at home first. Doctors give remote guidance on the treatment or disease prevention. Meanwhile, in Việt Nam, COVID-19 patients are sent to hospitals. We are too cautious with COVID-19. It is necessary to stay calm and understand the nature of the problem to create a new normalcy.
We need to change our perspective and understand the nature of the transmission mechanism to have proper response. Europe and countries with advanced medicine often consider COVID-19 a contagious flu and base on this to identify prevention and control measures.
Our dual tasks need to change as vaccines have been successfully developed and the vaccination programme is being expanded.
The outbreaks in January in some localities have severely affected local people and enterprises, slowing down the economic recovery process and putting pressure on the state budget.
In some localities, an entire district or even province is placed under lockdown after a positive case is reported. Do you think this needs to be changed?
We need to change pandemic control policies and communication methods. The prevention work should be more effective and based on the transmission mechanism. It is necessary to place those entering Việt Nam from abroad under concentrated quarantine facilities, yet for the locally-transmitted cases, we can consider allowing them to quarantine at home. The communication work must ensure people understand and share the pressure with the Government.
We need to put vaccines in economic and political contexts. Currently, we do not have sufficient political, diplomatic and economic capacities to be involved in vaccine distribution chains. Therefore, we need to produce the vaccines by ourselves and have measures in emergency cases like some countries. For example, the United States used the wartime production law to compel companies to manufacture vaccines.
Most importantly, the Government should buy locally-made vaccines at 2/3 price of international vaccines to encourage private enterprises, research institutes and scientists to invest more in research and trials.
Being aware of our limited PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing capacity, when the outbreaks occurred in Đà Nẵng and Hải Dương, affected localities asked for help in testing from other provinces and cities.
The cost for large-scale testing is very expensive and the state budget can’t handle this, therefore we need the private sector to join the manufacturing of rapid testing kits and to enhance testing capacity. — VNS