Omicron spike shatters daily records . . .
On Thursday, Vietnam confirmed 176,150 new COVID-19 infections, the highest single-day figure since the beginning of the pandemic. The capital Hanoi is the worst-hit in the current Omicron variant-fueled spike. In mid-February, daily case counts in the city had been steadily rising, reaching an average of about ten thousand per day last week to now more than 18,000. This latest surge comes only a few weeks after schools re-opened and other restrictions were lifted following the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday. A point of optimism in this wave is that more than 78 per cent of the adult population is double-vaccinated, and deaths and hospitalization are much lower than in previous waves. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh announced on Thursday that Vietnam will consider COVID-19 an endemic disease.
A complicated picture for international travel . . .
Two weeks ago, the Vietnamese government announced that it would fully re-open borders to international tourists and lift all travel restrictions on March 15. Vietnam has welcomed nearly 50,000 foreign visitors since gradually resuming international flights earlier this year. The government recently urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resume pre-pandemic visa policies for foreign tourists, possibly indicating that it does not intend to walk back on re-opening plans. Still, the record-breaking case numbers have led health authorities to urge caution. Yesterday, the Ministry of Health recommended additional precautions, including requiring international travelers to self-isolate for 72 hours after arrival instead of 24 hours as initially planned by the Ministry of Tourism. The confusion over these new measures and the lack of specific guidelines on their implementation could make a March 15 re-opening difficult.
The ‘Russia factor’ in tourism . . .
The current crisis in Ukraine is another source of uncertainty and anxiety for Vietnamese travel companies. Along with higher fuel prices and flight bans potentially driving up costs, a drop in Russian tourists could hurt Vietnam’s tourism industry. In 2019, Russians were the top spenders and stayed for the longest compared to visitors from other countries. Due to the ongoing crisis, some Vietnamese companies say they recently cancelled negotiations for tour services to Russian tourists even though Vietnam has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, nor has it imposed any economic sanctions. The pre-pandemic tourism industry in Vietnam accounted for about 10 per cent of its GDP and was worth about C$41.4 billion per year. The current geopolitical and domestic public health situation has dampened expectations of a quick return to these numbers.