Vietnam sets Covid-19 vaccination targets as new curbs unrolled

A deserted motorway in Ho Chi Minh City on the first day of the lockdown on July 9, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (REUTERS, AFP) - Vietnam aims to vaccinate 50 per cent of people aged 18 or older by the end of this year and 70 per cent by the end of March, 2022, the health ministry said on Friday (July 9), as tighter coronavirus curbs were imposed in more cities including the country's commercial hub.

After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has since late April faced a more stubborn outbreak that has prompted calls for the government to accelerate its vaccination programme.

"Vaccination against Covid-19 is a necessary and important measure to contain the disease and ensure socio-economic development," the health ministry said in a statement.

The government's latest targets come after it had previously said it aimed to vaccinate 70 per cent to 75 per cent of the country's 98 million population by the end of this year or early next year.

The ministry said on Friday it has clinched deals and commitments for 105 million coronavirus vaccine doses, which is lower that the 150 million figure it had stated previously.

Vietnam has so far received around 6 million vaccine doses, mostly under the Covax sharing facility. Nearly 4 million doses have been administered and only around 250,000 people have been fully vaccinated with two shots.

Vietnam's economic hub Ho Chi Minh City began a two-week lockdown on Friday in the hope of containing the country's worst Covid-19 virus outbreak.

The city of nine million had previously been subjected to travel restrictions for a month, but infection rates were steadily rising - with more than 9,400 cases registered.

Before the outbreak kicked off in late April, Vietnam had recorded fewer than 3,000 cases across the entire country.

Ho Chi Minh City residents are now barred from gathering in groups larger than pairs in public, and people are allowed to leave home only to buy food, medicine and in case of emergencies.

Police have set up checkpoints at city borders and only those with negative test results can get in.

Airlines can carry a maximum of 1,700 passengers to the capital Hanoi per day, the aviation authorities said, while trains between Vietnam's two major destinations have been suspended.

"Our busy city has become extremely quiet," Saigonese resident Tran Phuong told AFP. "I am anxious that these strict measures cannot help because the virus is now deep across the community."

Vietnam had once been hailed as a model for virus containment as a result of extensive contact tracing and strict quarantine rules.

All close contacts of virus patients have been put under state-controlled quarantine facilities.

Ho Chi Minh City was the first to adjust the strict policy, allowing close contacts to home quarantine because state-run isolation centres are overloaded.

Earlier, state media reported more than 80 inmates and guards had tested positive at the city's Chi Hoa jail.

Gunshots rang out from inside the prison on Tuesday, but it remains unclear what had happened.

Vietnam is juggling its desire to contain the virus with its economic growth goals.

The country has been among the best performing economies in Asia, reporting strong growth of 6.61 per cent in the second quarter.

"The lockdown... is too hard. It will severely affect people. Our business has been suspended, so no income. Our life has been quite difficult," motorbike parts trader Nguyen Thi My Dung told AFP.

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