Vietnam’s President to Visit Cuba for COVID-19 Vaccine Assistance

Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, whose country is in the throes of its worst coronavirus outbreak, will travel to Cuba this weekend to enlist the Caribbean fellow communist country’s help in fighting against the pandemic, Hanoi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.

Phuc’s three-day visit comes at the invitation of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who agreed during a phone discussion in August that Cuba would donate 10 million doses of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccine, Abdala, before the end of the year. Phuc will also attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Cuba, which has said Abdala was 92.28% effective against SARS-CoV-2 during clinical trials in June, also will send a team to Vietnam to transfer its vaccine production technology.

The meeting follows a trip by National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue to Europe to seek vaccine assistance earlier this month, part of a campaign to step up vaccinations rates in Vietnam. Hanoi has so far fully inoculated only five percent of its 98 million people.

Vietnam had been among the most effective countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths among its 95 million people through late July 2020—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.

After successfully weathering three separate waves of the virus with confirmed cases numbering in the low thousands, a fourth wave arrived in April 2021. As of Friday, the country has reported 663,232 cases of the deadly virus and 16,637 deaths.

During the fourth wave, the country locked down its largest cities and forbade residents from leaving their houses except to procure food, a move that has led to widespread unemployment and loss of income.

But even as the harsh measures dragged on, reported cases continued to climb.

Looking beyond COVAX

Most of the vaccines administered in Vietnam so far come from the World Health Organization’s COVAX program. Now Hanoi is looking to procure more from other countries.

Cuba has fully vaccinated 38.5 percent of its population using doses from China’s SinoPharm as well as its own vaccines, for which it is seeking WHO approval.

Vietnam is also racing to roll out its own homegrown vaccines, with four under development, two of which are undergoing clinical trials.

Vietnam’s National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control and the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee on Thursday launched a fundraising website which called on the Vietnamese diaspora to contribute to the country’s fight against the pandemic.

The Committee’s President Do Van Chien said the government had limited resources, so is calling on society to join hands in combating the epidemic, particularly ensuring the wellbeing of the poor, the disadvantaged, the unfortunate and unemployed by making contributions to the national vaccine fund.

“This will help bring the country back to normalcy,” he said. 

Running out of money

 Also at the event, Pham Quang Hieu, the vice minister of foreign affairs and chairman of the Vietnam State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese Affairs, handed over a donation of one billion dong (U.S. $44,100) collected from people of Vietnamese descent living in Britain, Japan, Ukraine, and the U.S.

According to Vietnam’s state media, the overseas Vietnamese community has contributed over 60 billion dong ($2.65 million). 

The fundraising efforts came as Vietnamese Finance Minister Ho Duc Phoc told the National Assembly that Vietnam’s budget was so tight that it “almost has no money left.”

The widespread lockdowns and social distancing measures decreased the government’s tax revenue in half, as the most restricted areas were the highly populated industrial hubs, the minister said.

The revelation comes ahead of discussions over an assistance package for businesses, possibly hinting that the package will be smaller than what business owners are expecting. 

The minister also said that the most urgent thing to do now was to find a way to open for business as soon as possible. 

Vietnam has shifted from eliminating COVID-19 completely, which authorities dubbed the “Zero F0” strategy, to accepting that the virus would be among the population and trying to live in a way to protect public health, state media reported.

Many people in Vietnam have lost their jobs and income due to the measures, and staying locked down indefinitely is unsustainable, state media reported Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam as saying at a meeting between the government’s Special COVID-19 Taskforce and the leaders of the country’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City.

He recommended that Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong province and other pandemic hotspot areas discontinue the “Zero F0” strategy and prepare to live with the ongoing pandemic.

In the capital Hanoi, Nguyen Khac Dinh, head of the National Assembly Standing Committee’s Working Group on Implementing Resolutions related to COVID-19 Prevention and Control, told state media that his outfit had begun discussing a plan on “living safely with the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

 As of Friday, Vietnam has reported 663,232 cases of the deadly virus and 16,637 deaths.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Nawar Nemeh and Eugene Whong. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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