Sparse traffic on Hồ Chí Minh-Long Thành-Dầu Giây Highway in HCM City on the first day of the social distancing order taking effect on May 31, 2021. — VNA/VNS Photo
HCM CITY — HCM City will go into lockdown under Government Directive 16 for 15 days starting July 9, but the regulations will ensure the least disruptions to people's lives as possible.
Nguyễn Thành Phong, Chairman of HCM City, made the statement during Wednesday's meeting with the National Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, as the outbreak in the southern economic hub is worsening with hundreds of new community infections a day and total caseload topping 8,000 today.
The 13-million-population has stayed under social distancing order in line with Government Directive No.15 – including closures of non-essential services and businesses – for 38 days (starting on May 31), but the outbreak seems to have not improved, with about 17 per cent of registered cases since late May detected through community screening or when hospitalised.
Directive 16, which was enforced nationwide during the early days of the pandemic last year, prescribes the closure of non-essential services and businesses, people are asked (instead of just advised to under Directive 15) to stay at home and only go outside for essential trips (buying food, medicines, emergency care, going to work at essential businesses and factories), not allowed to gather in more than two people outside of hospitals, schools or workplaces or in public areas, and must maintain a distance of 2m in public. Public transport would be halted and movement between different areas will be limited to a minimum.
The order will take effect the day after the national high school exam concludes (Thursday, July 8).
Phong said the complicated developments of the pandemic, the high population density, the high volume of trade, and especially the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of coronavirus, have posed serious challenges for the city.
“To soon contain the outbreak, the city needs to be committed to more resolute and stronger measures and needs to accept the sacrifice of short-term interests to ensure long-term development and people's health and safety,” the city’s leader said.
Phong asked the city's residents to trust, support, and cooperate with the leadership during the lockdown. He believed that the outbreaks could be put under control if the measures are strictly implemented.
Phong reassured that the supply chain in the city remains stable – despite closures of several markets with clusters of infections – in the lockdown period, with goods stocked up to 120,000 tonnes a month and a push for online shopping.
Up to 106 markets, 124 traditional markets, and over 2,000 mini markets and convenience stores across the city will be utilised to ensure sufficient essentials and food for residents.
In addition, the city's transport department has prepared plans for transportation activities on roads and waterways in the city, in which public transport will be halted and a number of vehicles (including a fleet of taxis) will be tasked with carrying people to hospitals and medical centres in case of necessity.
Railway and airway travels will likely also be halted.
Ride hailing services using motorcycles and traditional xe ôm will be suspended, but shipping services will continue to be operational.
Deputy transport Lê Anh Tuấn asked HCM City and neighbouring localities to coordinate to ensure uninterrupted flow of goods and facilitate COVID-19 testing for the drivers operating the vehicles transporting goods between localities.
The city assigned the health department to prepare a plan to control the pandemic at a higher level with the support of the Ministry of Health in terms of human resources (10,000 medical staff and doctors) and equipment, establish contact tracing teams and strengthen efforts to suppress local outbreaks.
The city is also told to prepare for up 20,000 treatment beds and quarantine space for 30,000 direct contacts of infected patients (F1 cases), ramp up testing to collect 1.3 million samples a day and process 400,000 samples.
The focus remains on increasing testing capacity in high-risk areas to make sure that results are returned to people within 12 hours.
The city’s leader said that currently the group testing method will continue to test mixing of 10-15 samples, and ruled out larger sample mixture.
The city has completed the appraisal and arrangements for 43 enterprises in export processing zones, industrial parks and high-tech zones with 56,000 employees to be ready to implement on-site isolation while continuing to carry out production at factories in line with the guidance of the health ministry.
Deputy health minister Đỗ Xuân Tuyên asked HCM City to strictly enforce social distancing measures from household to household, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, residential area to residential area.
Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Đức Đam, Chair of the National Steering for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, said the Government has agreed with HCM City’s proposal on the implementation of the Directive 16, and be ready to even go further with stronger measures to stamp out the outbreaks as quickly as possible.
Đam urged the city to fully use the lockdown days to quell COVID-19 outbreaks.
“HCM City’s anti-COVID-19 units possess high level of expertise compared to the general level, so it is necessary to promote the city’s creativity in preventing and controlling the outbreaks. The ground situation could certainly be different from the hard regulations or guidelines, the city should feel emboldened to pilot and implement [creative measures] in the spirit of prioritising effectiveness,” Deputy PM Đam said. — VNS