DA NANG, VIETNAM - Western business leaders remain optimistic about Vietnam’s economic prospects despite a new surge of coronavirus cases that has prompted renewed lockdowns, especially in hard-hit neighborhoods in and around the central city of Da Nang.
Vietnam had been one of the world’s most successful countries in containing the virus, with no new cases for 99 days until the new outbreak began on July 25. Since then there have been more than 900 new cases and 21 fatalities, prompting a new round of strict measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“People are just staying at home and nobody is leaving the street, we had a blood test yesterday and a temperature check every morning and I cried a bit yesterday,” said Jessie Tran, a Vietnamese website designer living in one virus hot zone in Da Nang.
Economists are warning that the outbreak could lead to a setback in the nation’s fairly rosy projections for short-term economic growth, according to Kenneth Atkinson, the founder of the international accounting firm Grant Thornton and vice president of the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB) in Vietnam.
“I think it is too early to say but already one of the advisory committees from the policy research institute said to the prime minister, this could throw us into negative growth from the current projections of the 2 to 4% GDP growth for 2020,” said Atkinson, a dual citizen of Britain and Vietnam.
Nevertheless, Atkinson told VOA he is not too worried because he believes Vietnam will remain an attractive destination for international companies wishing to relocate from China because of the U.S.-Chinese trade war.
“The way Vietnam dealt with the first wave of COVID has given people a lot of confidence in the country and it can only accelerate that process that it has already started and I think Vietnam from that perspective comes out of this very well,” he said.
In the meantime, normal commerce has screeched to a near halt in Da Nang, a coastal city popular with tourists because of its pristine beaches. Those beaches are now virtually empty, and authorities have closed all but essential businesses such as pharmacies, hospitals, ATMs and supermarkets.
Medical experts are still uncertain about the source of the new outbreak, which Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long has attributed to a new strain of the virus although that has yet to be confirmed by scientists.
Vietnam’s borders have been almost totally closed since March apart from a few flights repatriating Vietnamese from abroad, who could have brought the virus with them.
Suspicion is also focused on 40 Chinese nationals who were illegally smuggled into Vietnam in April. Two Vietnamese citizens were detained on July 27 on suspicion of organizing the illegal entry and are being questioned by police.
Local authorities are now acting to test Da Nang’s entire population of about 1.1 million people. Tien Son Sports Center, in Da Nang’s city center, has been converted into a field hospital and will be able to hold up to 2,000 patients.
About 100 people were working frantically earlier this month to finish the task, according to a security guard who gave his name as Mr. Long.
In the city’s Ngu Hanh Son neighborhood, close to My Khe beach, one street was completely locked down beginning July 30 after at least one case was detected there. The street, An Thuong 15, was cordoned off while guards and medics in hazmat suits inspected the area. The barricades were removed only a few days ago, to the delight of residents.
Despite the strict measures, most expatriates living in Da Nang give the government credit for acting swiftly and effectively to contain the virus, both earlier this year and during the current surge of cases.
“I am scared but I am less worried knowing that the community I live in is so accepting of the rules and regulations enforced by the government, which are there to keep us safe,” said Eva Monique McDonough, a Canadian citizen, who teaches English and studies Vietnamese.
Tran, the website designer, agreed that the Vietnamese government is trying its best to handle the outbreak and that the lockdown measures are crucial to containing it.