The recent unusually high coronavirus infection and death rates in Vietnam are partly due to the slow progress of the vaccination programme. As a result, borders remain closed and visas for holidays or business trips still cannot be applied for. What is wrong in Vietnam?
From textbook example to national crisis
Together with New Zealand and China, Vietnam was for a long time considered a textbook example of how a country could get the coronavirus under control. Through swift and far-reaching measures, the Vietnamese government managed to protect its population against the virus for a long time. Whereas until recently many countries had to deal with high infection numbers and deaths, by April 2021 Vietnam had only 35 coronavirus-related deaths. This earned the country much praise from the international community, and it was expected that Vietnam would be one of the first countries to open its borders again and issue tourist visas.
Complacency and delta variant
In retrospect, Vietnamʼs earlier good handling of the COVID crisis seems to have backfired. The government has been accused of complacency due to the low number of infections and deaths that Vietnam had for a long time. The outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus hit Vietnam particularly hard. Although the government was initially able to control local outbreaks in Hanoi and the province of Bac Giang, the delta variant has rapidly spread throughout the country. The Vietnamese government is currently fighting a running battle: new infection clusters are being discovered every day, and the number of infections and deaths is increasing rapidly. The expectation that the country would open its borders to tourists and start issuing visas again has evaporated. The government is not currently considering admitting international travellers.
Slow vaccination programme
The biggest problem Vietnam currently faces with regard to the coronavirus is its very low vaccination rates. At the beginning of August, less than 1% of the population was fully vaccinated. By comparison, neighbouring Cambodia now has 36.5% of its population fully vaccinated and the UK 63.1%.
There are several reasons why Vietnam is struggling with getting the vaccination programme running. The Vietnamese government saw no need to stockpile vaccines early because of the until recently low infection rates. Instead, the government invested in home-made vaccines. While other countries in the region were already importing international vaccines, Vietnam was in the early stages of testing its own vaccine, Nanocovax. Although the progress of these tests was slow, few people were concerned as infection rates remained low.
But the blame does not lie with Vietnam alone. Rich countries are able to pay higher prices for vaccines and are accused of "hoarding" vaccines, leaving poorer countries facing a dire shortage. Canada, for example, had bought enough vaccines to vaccinate its entire population five times. Although this appears to have changed in recent months (e.g. the USA announced in June its intention to "share" vaccines), this has led to a structural backlog of vaccines for poorer countries.
With the spread of the delta variant of the virus, the Vietnamese government is trying to buy vaccines at a rapid pace. Many vaccines have now been approved for use, including Pfizer-BioNTech and the Russian Sputnik V.
Lockdowns and no visas
As a result, Vietnam has once again introduced strict lockdowns. For a while, the country was able to relax many of its coronavirus rules, but most of these have been reversed again as a result of the latest outbreaks. Events and other gatherings are banned in many provinces. There is a curfew in Ho Chi Minh City, the economic centre of the country. In public areas, people must wear masks and keep sufficient distance from each other.
Vietnam currently does not admit international tourists. As long as the country does not have the coronavirus under control, it remains impossible to travel to the country for a holiday.
In theory, it is possible to apply for a Vietnam visa; however, visa applications are not processed until the travel ban has been lifted. In order to apply for a visa, a number of requirements must be met, such as having a passport that is valid for 30 days after the expiry date of the visa. Additionally, at least one accommodation in Vietnam must already have been booked.