Migrant workers flee Vietnam’s business capital, raising specter of COVID-19 outbreak

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KEY POINTS

  • Some migrant workers have spent months without work and without sufficient food
  • Other provinces with low vaccination rates fear return of workers could spark wave of virus
  • At least 200 people have tested positive among 160,000 migrants trying to return home

A massive exodus of unemployed migrant workers from Vietnam’s COVID-19 epicenter, Ho Chi Minh City, following an easing of restrictions has raised fears of a wave of the virus in other parts of the country.

The exodus began on Friday after city officials lifted the strict stay-at-home order. Some workers stranded in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s business capital, and its surrounding provinces during the lockdown have spent months without work or sufficient food. Authorities are now scrambling to track and quarantine those returning to the Mekong Delta region and the central highlands.

Of the 160,000 migrants returning home, at least 200 people have tested positive for COVID-19. “The sea of ​​people returning home at this time is extremely difficult for our province to manage,” said Nguyen Than Binh, a local official in An Giang province in the Mekong Delta, quoted by Al Jazeera.

“For the past three days, we have been working tirelessly to receive, screen, test and provide food and accommodation for people. People ride motorcycles all day and night and it rains, so the duty people have to buy raincoats for everyone.

The vaccination rate is still lagging behind in Vietnam as only 35% of its approximately 98 million people have received at least one dose.

After the lockdown was lifted on Friday, checkpoints in Ho Chi Minh City were inundated with people trying to get out.

“Please don’t go and stay at work,” vice chairman of the city’s People’s Committee Le Hoa Binh said, according to Reuters. “The city faces serious labor shortages.

“I am still in debt 40 million Vietnamese dong ($ 1,762) and have no money to buy food. “Tell me how can I stay? “I just want to go home,” said Tran Thi Thanh, who was stuck in Ho Chi Minh City during the lockdown, Al Jazeera reported.

The security forces refused to let people out without proper screening and a fight broke out. People broke down the barriers that prevented them from leaving.

“They broke the barrier between Ho Chi Minh City and Long An province to return home after four months of hunger here,” 32-year-old Ho Chi Minh City resident Nguyen Thao told Al Jazeera. “It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this. People wouldn’t be so aggressive if they weren’t pushed to the brink of life… I think at that point they must be breaking the law. rule to survive. “

Charity workers blame the government for the chaos. According to them, the government has not provided adequate support to migrants so that they can overcome the strict restrictions.

The provinces to which migrants return have low vaccination rates as Vietnam has a limited supply of vaccines. Even though most of the returnees from Ho Chi Minh City have received at least one dose, local authorities are asking returnees to self-isolate and pay for it.

“These interprovincial emigrants still have to pay 80,000 VND ($ 3.50) per day for seven days of quarantine if they have received at least one vaccine and for two PCR tests,” a Vietnamese economist told on condition of anonymity to Al Jazeera. . Each PCR costs 700,000 Vietnamese Dong, or about $ 30. Some might not be able to pay the amount.

Families after families are leaving town after running out of money for rent and food.

The migratory influx has overwhelmed local authorities tracking returnees in Soc Trang and Hau Giang provinces in the Mekong Delta region. Fearing a surge in the virus rate, the two provinces have asked the central government to suspend departures from Ho Chi Minh City and its surroundings. The province of Ca Mau has suspended its plan to lift the restrictions.

In addition to fears of a wave of the virus across the country, businesses in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding areas have been alarmed by a possible labor shortage. Easy availability of labor is crucial at a time when the recent electricity crisis in China due to the coal shortage is pushing manufacturers to look elsewhere in Asia to shift production.

“Some companies were reluctant to invest in China. They choose not to go there now,” Johan Annell, partner of Asia Perspective, a consulting firm that works with northern European companies operating in Asia, told CNBC. East and Southeast.

Even if China remains the “preferred destination” for manufacturers, companies are looking for investment opportunities in Vietnam. However, lockdown restrictions and now a possible labor shortage have created a grim outlook for the country.

Vietnam’s statistics offices last month said the country’s economy contracted 6.17% in the third quarter, since the government was forced to put Ho Chi Minh City under severe lockdown in July. This is the largest drop since record keeping began in 2000, the Financial Times reported.

According to the FT report, the business chamber representing foreign investors warned Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh that the closures have disrupted the operations of several companies, even prompting some to relocate production to other countries.

Pandemic has hit Vietnamese textile industry and threatens global coffee supply Photo: AFP / NHAC NGUYEN

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