By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
This wave of COVID-19 has been hitting Việt Nam really hard. The country jumped from about 3,500 cases to more than 11,000 in just six weeks, while hundreds of thousands of people have been quarantined.
When the Chairman of HCM City People's Committee, Nguyễn Thành Phong, announced the extension of social distancing measures for two more weeks, it was greeted with both applause and concern. "Two more weeks of social distancing, it's hard, but for the safety of our residents, we'll respect it," wrote one Facebook user.
Less than two weeks ago, when the COVID-19 vaccine fund was launched, the country returned to empathy mode when news that an elderly lady donates VNĐ400,000 (US$18) from her limited pension to the fund and a schoolboy broke his piggy bank to contribute his pocket money to the fund. In many developed countries, vaccine shots are provided by the government from tax money but in Việt Nam, it's a popular belief that everyone shares this responsibility.
Donating even a small sum makes everyone feel healthier and makes them an active fighter in this arduous fight against the deadly virus. Being active and taking part is better for society's positive energy, rather than having people just as vaccine shot receivers. This shows society functions as a community, where everyone's contribution and efforts head towards the common good.
So when HCM City reported new positive cases without identifying the sources identified, everyone knew it was time to extend social distancing.
It was a surprise when a poem went viral on social media, calling for the rest of the country to give the biggest city and economic driving force a helping hand.
"When droughts ravaged the central coastline, when flash floods and tropical storms wreaked havoc on northern towns and cities, HCM City was always the first and most generous helper.
"Don't think big guys never feel the pain.
"Don't think the rich never cry."
Even though HCM City contributes a huge amount to the national budget, there are still many poor people living in the city. Broken families, people out of work, and children and the elderly with no reliable sources of income have all become even more desperate amid the pandemic.
Today, HCM City is home to more than 14 million people, many of them internal migrants from elsewhere in the country. It contributes more than 20 per cent of the country's GDP and nearly 30 per cent of the national budget with average per capita income in 2019, the most recent statistics available, of nearly VNĐ7 million, the second-highest in the country.
In 2019, before COVID-19, HCM City received more than 8.6 million international tourists and more than 32 million domestic tourists, generating a total revenue of VNĐ140 trillion (more than US$6 billion) a 10 per cent revenue increase over the previous year.
In 2020, only more than 3 million tourists visited Việt Nam, a steep decrease of more than 78 per cent.
According to the National Administration of Tourism, almost all tourism companies and hotels have closed. Less than 10 per cent are working in a limited capacity, 100 per cent of tour guides have lost their jobs and hotel and restaurant workforce have also been cut. In its 60 years of development, Vietnamese tourism has never suffered such a hard time.
Over the first five months of this year, reports from the General Statistics Office (GSO) show other perspectives.
On one hand, nearly 32,000 companies stopped doing business, a 22 per cent increase over last year. More than 20,000 companies filed for bankruptcy, a 20 per cent increase over last year and 8,000 companies completed the bankruptcy process, marking a 32 per cent increase from a year prior. On average, every month, about 12,000 companies vanished from the market.
On the other hand, in May 2021, there were more than 11,600 new companies set up with a total registered investment of VNĐ150 trillion with 72,200 employees.
Experts say the fourth wave of COVID-19, starting from April 27, slowed the registration of new companies, investment and jobs created. But compared to back in May 2020, new companies registered still rose by more than 8 per cent, with investment up by 33.6 per cent.
The GSO also issued a report reiterating the business sector's credibility in the pandemic fighting plans and economic support programmes by the Government.
Nearly 55,810 new companies were established in the first five months, with total registered capital of VNĐ778.3 trillion ($33 billion) and 412,400 employees.
Besides, there were 22,600 new companies that resumed work, marking a 3.9 per cent increase over the last year. In the five months, a total of 78,300 companies returned to work. This is encouraging during the complex situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
HCM City is also a disembarkment point for returning Vietnamese on international flights. It has received, quarantined and tested thousands of people. The city also plans to assist its laid-off workers with VNĐ1 million each.
Free kitchens that offer free meals twice a day have helped those who were in need, mostly immigrant workers or lottery ticket sellers, who lost their income since the city's lottery was suspended on June 1.
When you think of HCM City, you think of a big city with many blurred faces. But even a strong person can have a bad day or the flu. No one can stay strong all the time. Those who always give can have their turn to receive something in return.
If 95-year-old Heroic Mother Ngô Thị Quýt can still sew face masks to give away to others who need them, then you and I can do something, or give a drop of oil to keep the empathy energy engine running. VNS