HANOI -- Hanoi on Wednesday announced that social distancing measures in 12 cities and provinces will be extended to at least April 22 and possibly April 30.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said after an online meeting with local authorities that the cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Da Nang, and provinces of Lao Cai, Quang Ninh, Bac Ninh, Ninh Binh, Quang Nam, Binh Thuan, Khanh Hoa, Tay Ninh and Ha Tinh will continue to be locked down.
"The social distancing measures will continue at these locations at until April 22 or April 30, depending on the real situation of each locality. An extension could be added if infection spreads," Phuc was cited by a Vietnamese news agency as saying.
Social-distancing measures will be loosened elsewhere in the country, allowing some important sectors of industry and business to resume operation from April 16, if they followed strict hygiene and epidemiological safety rules.
Residents across the country are expected to wear face masks and to keep at least 2 meters away from each other. Nonessential services will remain closed and activities such as festivals, meetings and religious gatherings of more than 20 people will still be banned until April 22. Schools are likely to remain closed until June, as requested by the education ministry.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh have the highest numbers of people quarantined and are the worst affected areas as of April 15. Hanoi has reported a total of 129 cases, while Ho Chi Minh has 54 cases, among a total of 267 in the whole country although no fatality has been recorded.
The Vietnamese government is under pressure to keep the economy afloat ahead of general elections scheduled for first quarter of next year. The country had gradually wound down business and social activities from Jan. 23 when Hanoi declared an epidemic in the three provinces of Vinh Phuc, Thanh Hoa and Khanh Hoa.
That initial assessment was then upgraded to a national epidemic on April 1, along with social distancing measures implemented across the country and the closure of borders.
However, some businessmen are calling for Vietnam to relax social-distancing rules and just learn to live with the disease. Vu Tien Loc, chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said social distancing should be adjusted depending on location and sectors, paving the way for all production and business activities to gradually recover.
"It is important to set different conditions and scenarios for each part, living with COVID-19 is a way of doing business in an epidemic era," Loc told local media.
Huynh The Du, a senior lecturer at the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management in Vietnam, agreed that strict measures should only be imposed at high-risk locations. "The government needs to have plans to live with the disease if the epidemic lasts longer," Du said.