Inside the Strictest Lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City

It has been a tough time for Ho Chi Minh City authorities and people over the past few weeks since the COVID-19 cases and deaths in the city have been increasing at a worrying pace. 

As the city has been instructed to get the pandemic under control by September 15th, 2021, citizens here are experiencing the strictest lockdown since the start of COVID-19 - following Directive 16 with tighter restrictions and measurements. The full lockdown started on August 23rd, 2021, and is expected to last for 2 weeks.

People cannot leave their homes or go shopping for groceries/medication. All food, medicines and essential goods are distributed to their doors by the military, community service staff and volunteers under government supervision.

COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms can stay isolated at home and follow doctors’ instructions for treatment, as hospitalisation has been under strain with the increasing number of cases in the past few weeks. 

As the city is under the ‘stay where you are’ regulation, travelling across districts is prohibited. Only 11 certain groups of people are allowed to go outside provided they can produce the necessary documentation, outlined in Directive 16.  

The 4th Wave of COVID-19 in Ho Chi Minh City 

Ho Chi Minh City entered its 4th wave of COVID-19 at the start of May 2021, seeing its peak at 6,318 new cases on July 26th, 2021.

The total number of cases in Ho Chi Minh city as of August 26th, 2021, is 190.174 cases - with the number of deaths at 7.568. (According to the Ministry of Health)

230,000 people in Ho Chi Minh City are reported to have been severely affected by COVID-19, including those who have lost their jobs, worked on reduced hours and wages. (According to a CAND news article published on July 5, 2021). The social welfare system of Ho Chi Minh City has claimed to give 1.5 million VND to people who live in the city and have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 

Ho Chi Minh City’s authorities have been dealing with the pandemic following the 5 pillars: zoning out, tracing, testing, isolating and boosting the vaccination campaign. 

The city’s COVID-19 strategy is divided into 2 stages. The first stage focuses on lowering the number of deaths and making sure every patient has access to healthcare from August 15th - 31st. The second measure, from September 1st to 15th, will attempt to lower the societal and economic cost of COVid 19 through an aggressive vaccination programme (aiming to get 70% of the adult population their 1st shot of the vaccine and 15% fully vaccinated), with the goal of reducing the number of severe cases and deaths by 20%. 

On August 24th, 2021, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh was assigned to become Head of the National Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control, a position held previously by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam.

What Are the Current COVID-19 Restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City?

The city is divided into 3 groups - red, orange and green zones - according to the risk status of each area. The authority is rushing to conduct quick COVID-19 tests in red and orange zones - with 6,000 positive cases to be found after 3 days of testing. 

Ho Chi Minh City residents cannot leave their homes to go out to buy groceries or medicine. All food, necessities and essential goods are distributed by the military or community serviced staff in each area. People are given choices of food and grocery combos that will be handled by the military or a designated authority in their area under the proxy shopping system. 

Food delivery is permitted in the city - although only basic food and essential items are allowed to be delivered, and shippers can only travel within one district, which means people can only make online orders from a store in the same district. 

Checkpoints and roadblocks are placed throughout the city - at every border from one district to another, as well as in small alleys - with authorities, police and military on duty 24/7. People who travel without an essential reason will get a fine of 500,000VND - 3,000,000VND. This fine also applies to shippers who either deliver non-essential items (e.g. a phone charger) or deliver food inter-districts, which has created a shortage of shippers and made it challenging for citizens to place orders online.

Employees of essential businesses, enterprises and factories are required to continue the ‘3-on-the-spot’ regulations - work, eat and rest at their workplace, which started in late July 2021, to maintain production during the pandemic.

11 groups allowed to go out on the street from August 23: 

  1. Community COVID-19 teams, medical staff; People who travel to/from quarantine facilities.
  2. Police and military who work at checkpoints, epidemic control stations, patrol teams and coordination forces; people on duty to support diplomatic activities; people who work at consular and diplomatic offices to perform unscheduled tasks (with specific time and proof of proposals).
  3. Support and rescue forces directly under the coordination of the Ho Chi Minh City Fatherland Front Committee (kitchen, charity, volunteer force...).
  4. People working in essential fields of finance: banking, securities; employees in the transportation industry; cleaning staff, funeral activities, etc. 
  5. Delivery staff except for Thu Duc city and 7 districts with high COVID-19 cases. 
  6. Employees of the construction industry (water supply and drainage, parks, technical infrastructure, etc.); maintenance companies; employees in manufacturing, import and export industries, petrol and gas stations: 6-8 hours of operation. 
  7. Telecommunications services; newspapers; state postal services; notary services, companies that provide security services. 
  8. Hotel staff serving medical isolation and epidemic controlling forces managed by the Tourism Department.
  9. People under medical emergency or periodical medical treatment/examination; people going to get vaccinated. 
  10. Food production & catering facilities (bread, tofu, noodles, vermicelli, etc.) 
  11. Insurance companies (only performing activities related to assessment, compiling claims and settling insurance benefits) with staff working under “3 on the spot” rules and only allowed to go out under certain circumstances. 

Ho Chi Minh City authorities have added to the list the following groups of people who are allowed on the street, updated on August 23, 2021:

  1. Colleges and vocational schools (10 passes each school); Delivery staff of businesses under “3-on-the-spot” in industrial and production facilities. 
  2. Cars and trucks with the QR code verified by the Department of Transportation. 
  3. People working at Tan Son Nhat International Airport and Cat Lai Port; Support forces from the Youth Union and Women’s Union; Market traders support the supply of goods: People going back to their hometown as planned; Community trash collectors; Forces examining animals and vegetation, etc.

5 Main Objectives of Military Forces in Ho Chi Minh City 

Over 10,000  military troops, including military medical staff, were sent to Ho Chi Minh City to support the city in its fight against COVID-19 under 5 main objectives:

  1. Providing food and essential groceries to the residents of Ho Chi Minh City
  2. Medical support for the COVID-19 patients who are conducting treatment at home
  3. Work at checkpoints and roadblocks 
  4. Military transport 
  5. Burial and funeral for COVID-19 patients

Ho Chi Minh City Vaccination Campaign

As of August 24, 2021, 73,5% of people who are over 18 have received their first jab. On August 23, 2021, the city began to boost its vaccination campaign for red and orange areas. As announced by the authority, public health service staff will arrive and conduct the vaccination at residents’ houses. 

The city is currently at stage 6 of the campaign - with the 1st stage starting from March 08, 2021, and the 6th stage starting from August 03, 2021.

Important Stages in Ho Chi Minh City Lockdown Policies under the 4th Wave of COVID-19

April 30th, 2021

  • Bars and karaoke places are closed.

May 7th, 2021

  • Gyms and fitness centres are closed.
  • Schools switch to online teaching.

May 22nd, 2021

  • Religious ceremonies (churches, temples, mosques, etc.) with more than 20 people gathering are paused. 
  • Street food vendors and kitchens only serve take-away food. Restaurants carry out 2-metre social distancing measures. 
  • Entertainment services (theatres, cinemas, massage services, etc.) are closed. No more than 30 people are allowed in a conference room and no more than 20 people are allowed outdoors. 

May 31st, 2021

  • Social distancing following Directive 15 in the whole city - with Go Vap District and a part of District 12 under Directive 16. 


June 14th, 2021

  • The city continues with another 2 weeks of Directive 15.

July 9th, 2021

The city conduct Directive 16

  • Kitchens are not allowed to operate by any means. 
  • Traditional markets are closed. People are allowed to go shopping at the supermarket twice a week in some areas. 
  • Residents cannot travel inter-district without essential reasons/proof. Checkpoints and roadblocks are placed at the borders. 

July 24th, 2021

  • The city continues with Directive 16 with extra measures - workers stay at their workplaces following “3-on-the-spot”

July 26th, 2021

  • Residents are not allowed to go out from 6:00 PM - 6:00 AM. 

August 16th, 2021

  • Shippers are allowed to travel inter-district.

August 23rd, 2021

  • Shippers are not allowed to travel inter-district. 
  • No grocery shopping is allowed, residents must stay indoors. Food and essential items are distributed by the military.


Is This Full Lockdown Really Working?

Businesses in the city are having difficulties with the ‘city pass’ (the certified proof of documentation that allows their employees to leave home and travel to work) to be very limited and inconsistent in the way every checkpoint handles the situation. As the city’s authorities updated the paper procedures on August 23rd, 2021, companies have to wait for several days before they get the new passes for their employees. 

A representative from Greenland Vietnam Joint Stock Company has claimed that they are given only 2 city passes, which makes it challenging for every department, especially in logistics, to handle this lack of employees. 

The ‘proxy shopping system’ has been reported to be overloaded and poorly handled. Mr Long, a resident inside a ‘red zone’ in District 8, has had to rely on the district authorities to deliver grocery shopping to his home. He told the VNexpress that his order still hadn’t arrived after 3 days and was unable to place it online due to the increased demand for such services. 

This situation does not only apply in District 8 but also in many other districts in the city. This is due to the fact that ‘there are hundreds of orders per day but not enough staff to handle’ - an authorised staff from Go Vap District said.

Retail and supply chains also come across challenges under this full lockdown. VinMart - a retail chain in Vietnam - claimed that there are not enough ‘city passes’ given to their staff to handle thousands of online orders every day. VinMart/VinMart+ is expecting the government to provide more passes for their staff as they are fully vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 regularly. 

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