Senior economist Pham Chi Lan: Vietnam should prioritize Covid vaccination

Medical staff at Bach Mai Hospital are vaccinated against COVID-19

The current situation of the Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam requires the new Government to re-adjust the focus in strategies and policies, accordingly, it is necessary to focus on prioritizing resources for accelerating vaccination against Covid-19 from the very low rate of 1% today to 70%-75% of the population.

This is the view of Ms. Pham Chi Lan, a senior economist, and macro-policy analyst, in an interview with BBC News Vietnamese on May 31, 2021.

Still, in this economist’s opinion, the urgent adjustment, prioritizing policies and strategies may require slowing down some “ambitious” goals and projects on basic infrastructure development to help focus the response to Covid through accelerated testing and vaccination, which may have been identified and implemented “slowly” in the government in the previous term.

The situation is “very serious” this time.

First of all, assessing the situation the Covid-19 pandemic  causing to Vietnam today, Ms. Pham Chi Lan told the BBC that the level is “‘very serious.”

I think the current Covid situation in Vietnam is very serious compared to the previous three waves that Vietnam had encountered but it was overcome quite quickly and the results of the remedy are obviously quite good because the number of infected people is not high and most of them can be overcome quickly, the death toll in Vietnam is also the lowest compared to many other countries in the world.

But this time Covid spread faster, more severe, and up to now the numbers of infected people, the number of people who have to go to quarantine, and the number of people in potentially affected areas are large and continue to grow, continue to increase in different provinces and localities.

In addition, this time Covid is more difficult than previous times in that besides the complicated Covid strain itself, it spreads faster than the previous waves, because, between the British strain and the existing Indian strain, there is another strain, likely a hybrid between them.

Secondly, Covid spreads a lot in industrial parks, affecting the supply chains that Vietnam is participating in and exporting to other countries, including some chains of foreign investors operating in Vietnam.

Then it also spread in many different provinces and cities, initially concentrated mainly in the provinces of Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, now even Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are also places where there is a greater risk of spreading, so that causes a lot of complications for Vietnam.”

What is the reaction of the new government?

Evaluating the reaction of the new Vietnamese Government led by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh so far, Ms. Pham Chi Lan said:

I think the response of the new government is also quite quick, on the one hand, the policy of rapid distancing and a high concentration of different resources to support the two initially affected two provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh, and try to re-zone within the zones themselves or each zone, each industrial cluster is also closed so that the smoke spreads to other places.

On the other hand, the Government has also increased the precautions of all other regions so that the disease does not continue to spread, and then reacts such as tighter control of the border, not allowing foreigners to enter illegally in the country and bring the possibility of disease.

A lot of work has also been done by the government, and especially this time the new Vietnamese government has probably also seen that the low vaccination status in Vietnam quite slow compared to other countries, even compared to some neighboring countries.

The slow rate of vaccination makes the problem more and more serious, so in recent times, the new Government has policies to accelerate the purchase of vaccines from outside sources, not just waiting for the vaccine source to be available. The Government also has a policy that some companies or some other people can stand out to buy more vaccines to supplement the government’s resources.

I think that way, in terms of dealing with the epidemic, the new government is focusing its efforts very hard, even though it is said that the two dual goals are both preventing and overcoming the epidemic and growing the economy, but it is clear that in fact in recent times, from the day the epidemic spread strongly, from the end of April 2021 onward, so has increasingly focused on epidemic prevention, considering it the immediate goal.“

I agree with that, but economically, actually this time the government is also very worried because the epidemic affects industrial zones, it clearly challenges Vietnam’s export industries, to the jobs of workers and even to the psychology of foreign investors when looking at Vietnam.”

So worrying about how to fix it soon so that economic activities can be restored soon is also realizing the dual goals of the Government of Vietnam in the short term. I think the new Government is trying a lot and its directions, especially in the last few days, have proved to be on the right track and I most welcome the new Government’s way of being open and transparent about the flu situation that is happening in Vietnam due to the Covid-19 epidemic this time rather than concealing, or downplaying, the severity.”

The very clear announcement helps to timely warn, as well as strengthen the necessary measures to encourage people to join hands with the state to quickly overcome the epidemic.”

How to adjust strategy and tactics?

Emphasizing that there was a delay in the Covid-19 testing and vaccination strategy in Vietnam in the previous period, Ms. Pham Chi Lan emphasized that the current solution is to compensate for the fact that the Government and State of Vietnam must speed up vaccination against Covid in the population and it is a big challenge

Obviously accelerating vaccination is now a big challenge, because the rate is very small right now and the Government understands that it has to increase the rate from 1% to about 70%-75% of those who must be vaccinated, so Vietnam will need to have about 150 million doses of vaccine and get that number in a short time as possible to organize vaccination as soon as possible is a complete thing.”

Vietnam is also really slow compared to some other countries when it comes to thinking about vaccination and ordering it in different places, so getting this source is not easy at all. That’s one thing in my opinion. challenging and really a big challenge.”

But I think the Government is also trying its best from many different channels, for example, the Ministry of Health said that there are also negotiations to import from different sources and from now until the end of the year there may be 100 million doses.”

In addition, if the Government tries to implement those 100 million doses this year, from now until the end of the year, at the same time with the newly announced policy of opening up so that businesses can participate more in the treatment. The imported vaccine will help the Government speed up the import of vaccines to Vietnam and organize vaccination as soon as possible for a higher rate.”

I think the Government is aware and understands that now it is necessary to vaccinate about 70%-75% of the population in Vietnam who are subject to vaccination because only then can the relatively basic situation of infection and disease increase in Vietnam, which may re-emerge in the future, even after overcoming this time.”

And two more, that is the only way to keep the pace of the economy and be able to recover the economy, as well as develop in the coming time, the Government also clearly realizes that in different countries now, Now, the race to restore economic development is associated with the race to how to vaccinate well with vaccines.”

If any country can handle the vaccine problem well, their ability to recover is significantly faster than other countries, that’s very clear, so the Vietnamese government I think now sees the problem, so it’s over an effort to get as many vaccines as possible and organize vaccination as soon as possible.”

I see that in the immediate future, Vietnam needs to focus on spending on health, how to overcome the epidemic, how to get the vaccine soon to be widely vaccinated throughout the country, that must be the number one priority. one, rather than other economic priorities.”

Regarding the strategic and strategic adjustment to the Vietnamese economy, Ms. Pham Chi Lan said:

Vietnam’s Covid-19 vaccination rate is currently only 1% for those who need to be vaccinated in the community, through more than three outbreaks in the past year.”

But after that, how the economy should be, there must be policy adjustments. I think the most important thing is to be based on how resources are actually available and calculate more fully.”

It is possible that the government has to postpone some public investment projects or some development ambitions on some large projects that take up too much money because it is clear that the recovery here must be in production, in industries, and then supply chains are not broken so that Vietnam can remain attractive and sustainable in joining these chains.”

What about the ambitions of developing large infrastructure projects for the future, which may have to be pushed back and should be backed up, but should not be counted and done at this time, even the ones that have already existed or are new. If there are policies and aspirations for the development of the next ten years, in my opinion, they must also be recalculated.”

Ms. Pham Chi Lan is a former member of the Research and Policy Advisory Board for the Prime Minister of Vietnam in the past, former Vice President and General Secretary of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI). (Translated)


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