Vietnam’s citizens bearing the brunt of a surge in the number of COVID-19 virus infections in the Southeast Asian country have called on the government to provide assistance to those who have lost jobs amid the health pandemic, at the same time criticizing calls by leaders for residents to contribute money to a national coronavirus fund.
Large areas of Vietnam are under lockdown as the nation of nearly 99 million people struggles with a rising number of coronavirus cases. On Wednesday, the country reported a total 645,640 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including nearly 10,600 news ones, and 16,186 deaths, with 250 new fatalities.
On Tuesday, the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) proposed using part of the 89 trillion dong (U.S. 3.9 billion) from the country’s Unemployment Insurance Fund to help workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many workers have been hit hard by the fourth wave of the pandemic, made worse by the presence of the highly contagious Delta variant, with factory and company closures forcing them out of work. The ongoing crisis has also exposed the government’s lack of preparedness to handle one of the most serious public health disasters in contemporary times.
More than two million workers in Vietnam have lost their jobs, have had to take leave without pay, or have taken rotational leave since the current surge began in late April, according to the VGCL.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs must approve the VGCL’s request before any money from the Unemployment Insurance Fund can be released.
The government’s previous relief packages, including one worth 26 trillion dong had been “hard to implement and [was] less effective than expected,” the VGCL said without elaborating.
Provinces and major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have implemented their own relief policies, though locals report that the support they have received has not been enough to meet their basic needs.
Some young Vietnamese who have lost parents amid the coronavirus surge in Vietnam’s largest city have found themselves orphaned with no one to provide for them.
About 1,500 students in Ho Chi Minh City have lost their parents to the COVID-19 virus since late April, the municipality’s Department of Education and Training reported on Tuesday.
Of that number, more than 490 are elementary school pupils, 580 are secondary school students, and the remainder are high school students, all from various area of the city, though most live in three districts.
Authorities will provide payments of 540,000 dong a month to children over four years old, while children under four will receive 900,000 dong a month. They all will receive medical insurance, less tuition payments, until they are 16 years old. Other social support will be provided until they reach 22 years of age.
Authorities are calling for donations so that each orphan can receive a higher amount of 3 million-5 million dong per month plus basic necessities.
Exhausting people’s resources
Meanwhile, citizens and health professionals alike are up in arms about the central government’s handling of the National COVID-19 Vaccine Fund, which has received donations totaling about 8.7 billion dong, and about its call for ordinary people to contribute money.
“This is a fund of kindness, solidarity, faith, and from heart to heart to together overcome adversities and let Vietnam triumph over the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in a video message to the Vietnamese people. “Let us once again write the history of the glorious victory of the nation — winning the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Vietnam has one of the lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the world.
The government has withdrawn about 373 billion dong to purchase vaccines, while the remainder has been deposited at four big commercial banks and at the State Bank of Vietnam where it can earn 3.3 percent interest annually for a three-month term and 3 percent annually for a one-month term, according to the management board of the National COVID-19 Fund.
As of Sept. 10, nearly 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, and about 4.5 million people had been fully vaccinated. But many remain unvaccinated because of the ongoing shortage of doses.
Vietnam’s finance and health ministries on Sept. 8 proposed using part of the fund for vaccine research and clinical trials of domestic vaccines, drawing criticism from Vietnamese citizens and health experts.
A call from the government for officials, civil servants, employees, and workers nationwide to contribute a day’s salary to the country’s efforts to deal with the virus raised their ire another notch. Even overseas Vietnamese have been encouraged to donate money to the fund.
“The [Communist] Party and the government’s policy is to rely on the people’s resources — in other words, to exhaust people’s resources,” said a health expert from Hanoi, who requested anonymity so he could speak freely.
“People now are unemployed and need the government’s support, so how can they contribute their salary?” he asked, adding that top officials, including the prime minister, president, general secretary of the Communist Party, and government ministers should be contributing money from their salaries.
“They shouldn’t call on laborers, as that would be hard on the people and it sounds objectionable. Do they want to get the last coins in people’s pockets?” the health expert asked.
Using money from the fund to support vaccine research and depositing it in banks to earn interest are not in line with the original purpose of the fund, he said.
“We have money, but are short of vaccines. This is a misuse of the fund.” the health expert said.
Lack of transparency
While officials have disclosed donation amounts and how money from the fund has been used, they have remained mum on how much interest the remaining money in the bank is generating, he said.
“It means there is a lack of transparency in the fund’s disbursement,” the health expert added.
The Vietnamese government established the National COVID-19 Vaccine Fund in late May to receive, manage, and collect voluntary in-kind and monetary donations to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fund also receives contributions from other sources so the government can purchase, import, research, produce, and administer COVID-19 vaccines.
A worker named Thi, who in 2009 left her home in Tay Ninh province for Ho Chi Minh City to earn a living, told RFA that she had to return to the province when her company closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
She said she was aware that the government has called for contributions to purchase vaccines, but did not know it had deposited some of the national funds in banks or had used the money to conduct vaccine research.
“I was not even allowed to receive the 1.5 million dong from the government’s recent relief package because the head of my residential area said that the relief money was to be used for vaccine purchases,” Thi told RFA.
“Depositing the money in banks to get interest is unacceptable,” she said. “It’s also their fault if there are no vaccines to buy.”
Ngo Tri Long, former rector of the Ministry of Finance’s Price and Market Research Institute, said that Vietnam’s top leaders have been actively seeking vaccine supplies but received an insufficient amount to cover the population.
“There are practically no vaccines to buy now,” he said.
Vuong Dinh Hue, chairman of the National Assembly, traveled to Austria, Belgium, and Finland earlier this month to try to get the countries to provide Vietnam with COVID-19 vaccines and medicine to treat those infected with the virus.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bui Thanh Son has also been assigned to find vaccine supplies to buy, Ngo said.
The need for more vaccines amid new virus outbreaks in the United States and other countries has further limited vaccine supplies for nations like Vietnam, he said.
“The Vietnamese government was negligent with its strategy against the pandemic,” Ngo said.
“Now that they have realized the significance of vaccines, there are no vaccines to buy,” he added.
Though China gave Vietnam some of its Sinopharm vaccines, citizens throughout the country have expressed concern, fearing the doses might produce hidden side effects, Ngo said. But others had to accept the shots because they otherwise could not have resumed working.
The U.S. government has delivered 5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam amid the fourth wave of the virus.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.