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COVID-19: Three further community infections recorded in Hai Duong



A further three community cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) were confirmed on February 23 morning in Hai Duong, Vietnam’s biggest coronavirus hotbed, raising the national count of local transmissions to 1,496.

COVID-19: Three further community infections recorded in Hai Duong

Measurement of body temperature is necessary to prevent the pandemic

All of the new infections are F1 contacts related to previously confirmed patients in the outbreak of Kim Lien commune, Kim Thanh district, Hai Duong province where one of the first two cases in the nation’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak was found late last month, when the virus recurred in the nation after almost two months.

Since then, the virus have spread to 13 cities and provinces, with 803 local infections confirmed, including Hai Duong reporting the highest number of locally-transmitted cases at 620, trailed by its neighbor Quang Ninh at 60.

One day earlier, the northern port city of Hai Phong also recorded three new domestic infections. In the face of the complicated developments of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city, the Chairman of Hai Phong City People’s Committee, Head of the provincial Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control has decided to carry out a score of urgent measures to swiftly contain the disease.

The Hai Phong City People’s Committee has agreed to put three locations related to positive COVID-19 cases in lockdown and in medical quarantine to slow the spread of the virus among the community.

Meanwhile the northern province of Hai Duong is poised to increase the testing capacity to 80,000 samples per day by mobilizing the maximum force to become involved in taking samples in order to meet this capacity and work out a plan to conduct the sampling based on three groups: high-risk, risked and low-risk.

Regarding the fresh outbreak in Hai Duong province’s Kim Thanh district, the local health sector will step up contact tracing, zone off affected areas, and conduct COVID-19 testing as quickly as possible with test results announced within the same day.

Kim Thanh district will also take samples of all employees working in enterprises in the area, while strictly complying with safe regulations regarding pandemic control set out by the Ministry of Health.

The national infection tally has gone up to 2,395 so far, including 1,496 local infections, 899 imported cases, and 1,717 recoveries.




Prolonged pandemic issues cloud recovery



Following the new coronavirus outbreaks in a number of localities, Vietnam’s economy could face yet another difficult phase in the early days of the new lunar year as production and services are hindered in several sectors.

 Nevertheless, economists expect the impact to be less severe compared to the previous year.

Dinh Quang Hinh, analyst at VNDIRECT Securities JSC, noted that the local economy’s recovery “will slow down”, especially in the next two months. According to Hinh, the tourism industry may still be the most affected by the new COVID-19 wave.

Reports from travel and airline businesses showed that many travellers cancelled flights and hotel reservations, and postponed their plans. In addition, the blockade in some localities such as Hai Duong Province and the closure of a number of non-essential services in other cities and provinces may reduce the growth rate of several service sub-sectors, especially accommodation, catering, tourism, and entertainment.

Prolonged pandemic issues cloud recovery
At a cocentrated quarantine area. Photo: VNA

Unfeasible policies 

Facing the serious impact of COVID-19 on the economy, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pham The Anh, chief economist of the Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR), said that the country could not pursue macro policies in the same way other countries would do, for example through large-scale monetary easing, due to limited financial resources after years of deficits, coupled with constraints to inflation and exchange rate targets.

Vietnam was one of the few countries in the world with positive economic growth in 2020. But this year, according to Anh’s observation, “the policy space is no longer wide” to support economic growth and social security.

Last year, the State Bank of Vietnam lowered interest rates three times and supported commercial banks with a VND250-trillion package ($10.87 billion), which is still being deployed. In addition, pandemic prevention and social backup subsidies to ease the impacts of the crisis are also putting great pressure on the budget balance.

In 2021, monetary policy, particularly interest rate tools, will see a significantly reduced effectiveness, according to the VEPR’s chief economist.

Anh also warned about an asset bubble that is forming in the stock and real estate markets. Last year, property market saw significant growth, mainly because real estate represented a haven for investors’ idle money.

When price increases on asset markets are large enough to create a wealth effect, consumption increases on non-essential goods could lead to a spillover of increased prices from the asset to the consumer market and, albeit slowly, manifest a rise in prices as the loosening policy is pursued for a long enough time.

The latest VEPR report from February 9 also identifies that the top priority at this time is ensuring social security, keeping macroeconomic stability, and reducing the burden for businesses. Policies to support these also need to continue to be implemented with a higher concentration and more substance, aiming for the right audience and their actual needs.

As such, the report suggested that financial burdens for businesses like loan interests and land rents should be frozen or suspended for the time being, in addition to considering cutting trade union fees to support businesses.

According to the VEPR, the group of businesses that was not affected by the disease or had seen an effective transformation should be encouraged with credit, the right institutional environment, and sectoral policy. These policies should be driven in a way that stimulates demand and assists consumers to pay for products and services, instead of directly sponsoring the company.

“We believe that tax extensions and reductions, if any, should only be applied to VAT instead of corporate income tax (CIT),” Anh said, further explaining that the reduction of CIT only supports a small number of businesses that is either not affected or even benefits from the pandemic. The CIT reduction also risks creating deeper inequality in the business environment, adversely affecting the economic recovery.

Cautious optimism 

This year will be the first of the new leadership of the Party and government and is expected to see many new steps, policies, and specific actions for the socioeconomic development. International developments such as the new US president and possibly more predictable policies could make the international environment less uncertain.

However, the continued competition between the United States and China does not protect from new risks that could appear. In this context, the chief economist of VEPR said that supply-side policies could be the most useful for Vietnam to reinforce fundamental elements of the economy.

“Macroeconomic stability, particularly inflation, interest rates, and exchange rates, need to be kept stable, which is essential to prepare for the post-pandemic recovery period. The Vietnamese economy is currently in a difficult time, while the return of a tightened monetary policy could lead to further difficulties for businesses,” Anh said.

At this point, even with the pandemic in the country fully controlled, many export-oriented sectors could face long-term difficulties as COVID-19 remains present throughout the world. Anh found that accelerating public investment, especially for key national projects, is a must to support economic growth.

“The division of multiple bidding packages and a more scattered implementation in many localities could create better spread,” he suggested.

At the same time, a reduction of the recurrent spending from the state budget by at least 10 per cent could be done to devote resources and overcome the consequences caused by the pandemic.

According to experts, many shortcomings in operating economic policies have been revealed, so efforts to improve administrative procedures and the business environment should continue to be maintained.

The diversification of import-export markets also needs more attention to avoid heavy dependence on several major economic partners. Despite delays, Vietnam could step-by-step build up fiscal buffers to prevent further economic shocks in the coming years.

On the bright side, Vietnam’s industrial production seems to expand in the first months of the new year. According to the General Statistics Office, although the industrial production index in January decreased by 3.2 per cent compared to the previous month, it increased by 22.2 per cent over the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the purchasing managers’ index in January decreased slightly to 51.3 from 51.7 points in December but remained above the 50 points level.

Optimistic but cautious, VNDIRECT’s Hinh expected that the manufacturing sector will be less affected by this COVID-19 surge as the global economy could recover stronger in the coming months, thanks to vaccines and more incoming orders for products made in Vietnam.

More time will be needed to observe and quantify the potential impact on the economic outlook, but Vietnam’s macroeconomic foundation may continue to be strengthened backed by current account and trade surpluses, rising foreign exchange reserves, and decreasing inflationary pressure. 

At last week’s government meeting on deploying key tasks and activities against COVID-19 after Lunar New Year, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc encouraged the public to use the Bluezone app and implement the 5K principles, as well as ensure safety and prevent disease transmission in schools, markets and supermarkets, hospitals, and business establishments, especially those with large numbers of people.

“We need to be fully determined, more and stronger than ever before. We must be determined to organise the effective implementation of the resolution of the 13th National Party Congress in each and every locality,” the prime minister said, emphasising the success in the past five years, especially in 2020, when the power and will of the Party were convincingly demonstrated.

He stated that focus must lie on directing and handling the five major balances in national development in the next five years.

Firstly, there must be a balance between opening up, innovating, and promoting socioeconomic development while strengthening and enhancing the leadership of the Party and a stable development between market laws and socialist orientation, as well as between state, market, and society, between economic growth and human development, between social progress and environmental protection, and between independence and integration.

Secondly, it is necessary is to balance rapid economic development with socially equitable progress, including preserving the environment and protecting the national cultural identity. “For example, like with our pandemic prevention efforts, development must be associated with the lives of the people and balanced and harmonious, letting no person and no locality fall behind, and possibly lose development opportunities,” the PM emphasised.

Thirdly, there must be a balance between internal and external forces, between domestic and foreign economies, between internal and foreign trade, between building an independent and autonomous economy with openness and international economic integration.

Fourthly, short-term priorities must be weighed against long-term goals. “We must not be subjective and avoid pursuing unsustainable short-term goals,” PM Phuc noted, suggesting that ministries and agencies maintain and firmly believe in the ideals and principles of building a socialist-oriented market economy.

Fifthly, national financial resources, public debt, and many other macroeconomic figures must be kept in balance. “Today, we have a good system of macro indicators, but we must ensure it is getting stronger and let next year be even better than last year,” said the prime minister.

By Van Nguyen/VIR


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Elderly woman collects scraps, raises money for piggy banks to help the poor



For many years, a 77-year-old woman has been going to every small alley and street corner in her neighborhood to collect scraps and sell banh my to get money for her ‘piggy banks’, which are kept to help the poor.

Elderly woman collects scraps, raises money for piggy banks to help the poor

‘Ma Cuc’, or Mother Cuc

On a pre-Tet day, Cuc sat at her home and opened a book where she wrote down the names of poor people who needed help. After writing cards to invite poor people to come to get Tet gifts, she checked her bag once again to see if any money was left and put the money into the ‘piggy banks’ on the table.

‘Ma Cuc’, or Mother Cuc, is the name people in Ward 8, District 3, in HCM City give to Nguyen Thi Bach Cuc who has been collecting scraps and raising money for piggy banks for 40 years to help the needy.

Cuc said she is kindhearted and does a lot of charity work. When she began working for the ward’s women association, she decided to create ‘piggy banks’ to save money for the poor by collecting scraps.

“When I began collecting scraps, there were a lot of whispers and comments. People said I pretended to be poor but my children are successful. But I did not feel sad. I believed they would understand me,” she recalled.

She said when her “back was still straight” she went to every small alley to collect scraps. Later, when her back became bent with age, she went to every house to ask for scraps.

For many years, a 77-year-old woman has been going to every small alley and street corner in her neighborhood to collect scraps and sell banh my to get money for her ‘piggy banks’, which are kept to help the poor.

Finally, locals realized the humanitarian significance of her work. They voluntarily bring scraps to her house and she classifies the scraps and sells them for money.

Cuc said she “fed the first pig” for one year. When she opened the piggy bank, she found VND50 million. The amount of money was sent to many agencies and organizations to distribute to the poor.

The woman, seeing people happy with her support, said she feels 10 years younger. And she vows to continue to raise money for the piggy banks. Because of health conditions, she can no longer go alone collecting scraps. So, decided to sell banh my.

She has a piggy bank on her vending cupboard with the words ‘nuoi heo dat vi cong dong’ (raising piggy bank for the community), so that people can put money into it.

“There are many kind people. They put money into the piggy bank. And students also donate money,” she said.

Cuc cannot remember how many piggy banks she has raised so far and how many she has given to the poor. She is just sure that the needy can receive money.

Cuc has also been making every effort to convert certain troubled people in the locality.

There was a man near her house, a drug addict and a jailbird. The man told Cuc that he wanted to become a good man, but he could not because of alienation from society.

Cuc, hearing his story, decided that it would be better not to corner him.

“At the trial, I asked for permission to meet him and give him some gifts. I told him to start his life again after leaving prison. When he was released, he came to meet me and promised to keep away from drugs. And now he has a job and lives well,” she said.

N was another case. The man, paralyzed in one foot after being beaten, did not have a job and received no care. Cuc gave him money for medical treatment and daily meals. Feeling moved by Cuc’s kindness, N now is interested in and devoted to his work, and has volunteered to speak about the harmful effects of drugs. 

Nguyen Son


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Vietnam’s university education moving up in international rankings



The placing of Vietnamese universities in prestigious global rankings has continually been on the rise in recent times despite the country’s much shorter history in terms of higher education.

Vietnam's university education moving up in international rankings
Vietnam’s university education moving up in international rankings. – Illustrative image (Photo: VNA) 

On a list of 10,000 universities in Asia from the Quacquarelli Symonds Education Organisation (QS) were seven from Vietnam in 2018, eight in 2020, and 11 in 2021.

The top 500 in Asia in 2018 saw the Vietnam National University, Hanoi (HNU), the Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City (VNUHCM), the Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST), Can Tho University, Hue University, and the University of Da Nang. Ton Duc Thang University and Duy Tan University were also added to the top 500 in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

This year, three more Vietnamese universities were named among the 634 best higher education institutions in Asia by QS: the Hanoi Pedagogical University, the Industrial University of Ho Chi Minh City, and the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City.

The QS 2020 rankings by field have four Vietnamese universities in the global top 600: HUST, HNU, VNUHCM, and Can Tho University. VNUHCM and Can Tho University appeared in the rankings for the first time.

The major of computer science and information systems at VNUHCM ranked in the 551-600 group globally. Can Tho University’s agriculture and forestry majors were in the top 251-300, while HNU saw the majors of maths, physics, astronomy, and computer science and information systems ranked.

HUST had four groups of majors in the top 400 and 500, including electrical engineering – electronics, mechanical engineering, aviation and manufacturing, computer science and information systems, and mathematics. Among them, all three majors in the fields of engineering and information technology increased between 50 and 100 places compared to 2019’s rankings and remained at the top in Vietnam.

With mathematics, this was also the first time Vietnam had two universities in the global top 500.

The QS 2020 rankings also put HNU and VNUHCM in the group of the 1,000 best universities in the world.

Vietnam had 172 higher education institutions in the Webometrics rankings (2020 version) from Cybermetrics Labs under the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), released in January 2020, or 38 more than in 2019.

For the first time, Vietnam had three universities ranked in the prestigious Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019: HUST, HNU, and VNUHCM.

It also had 12 universities in the University Rankings by Academic Achievement (URAP) in 2020, an increase of four compared to the previous year.  VNA


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