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Necessity is the mother of invention

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While so many enterprises are in tatters, some others have been able to turn the table to alleviate the devastating crisis sparked off by Covid-19

Covid-19 has spared no economies in the world, including the biggest powerhouses, such as the United States and China. In Vietnam, among the victims are not only service firms and industrial enterprises but also those in agriculture and other sectors. However, some have been resilient and smart enough to find a way out.

Medical ventilators and face masks to the rescue

According to Thanh Nien newspaper, the first medical ventilators to be used for the Vietnamese market were given to the Ministry of Health last Monday, April 13. The donor, VinGroup, said it would initially give 5,000 noninvasive positive-pressure ventilators to health authorities so that the machines can be used should the coronavirus pandemic further spread in the country.

Thanh Nien reported that VinGroup has been subcontracted by Medtronic, a U.S.-based medical device company, to produce PB560 ventilators under the latter’s licence. For the immediate future, VinFast, the auto assembler which is an arm of VinGroup, and VinSmart, another member of the group, are to produce 45,000 noninvasive ventilators and 10,000 invasive ventilators per month.

The Thanh Nien article also quoted Nguyen Tu Quang, CEO of BKAV, another local company, who said that his company has completed the plan to produce invasive ventilators in line with technological transfer from a Japanese firm. Quang said the first samples made by BKAV will come out in May to be tested by the health ministry for mass production.

The textile and garment industry has suffered enormously from the coronavirus as orders worth billions of U.S. dollars were cancelled. Yet necessity is the mother of invention. This hard time is an acid test of flexibility and creativity shown by players in the field.

Consumers stricken by the deadly Covid-19 pandemic may not need fashionable clothes, but they do need face masks to protect themselves. Shortages of masks were reported worldwide and clients were ready to pay for quality products. Vietnamese garment workers and their factories were quick to switch to production of face masks. Production of face masks may be one of the stop-gap measures taken by garment companies to temporarily cope with plunging sales and risks of massive layoffs. However, things are easier said than done. The problem was that material supplies for mask production in Vietnam was imported from China, the world’s biggest supplier in this regard, and this supply had been disrupted as China also needed the materials for her own use. Replacements were therefore desperately needed.

Consequently, local producers tried making fabric face masks instead of the normal surgical masks. Here, they had to surmount another difficulty, though. That was how to pick the right materials for the replacement. They were quick to do so.

As early as February, Dong Xuan Knitting Company, or Donimex, began to produce medical face masks, making use of its anti-bacteria fabric. This type of special cloth has been woven by Donimex for long to fill orders from the Japanese market. In addition to providing the fabric for its own manufacturing of face masks, Donimex has also supplied it to other mask makers in Vietnam.

Just like Donimex, multiple members of the Vietnam National Garment and Textile Group (Vinatex) have shifted from making clothes to producing face masks. By end-March, Vinatex members had turned out more than 40 million fabric masks. These companies have planned to make 28-30 million masks in April and in the months that follow.

Outside Vinatex, several other firms have also aimed at manufacturing fabric masks for export. A case in point is TNG which has sent millions made-in-Vietnam masks using nanofabrics to destinations in France, Belgium and Germany. TNG has also produced sets of coronavirus protective clothing.

A source from the Ministry of Industry and Trade told Tuoi Tre newspaper that local enterprises are producing some nine million face masks a day, 60% of which are fabric masks.

During a talk with Tuoi Tre, Nguyen Van Thoi, board chairman of TNG, said given the company’s current production capacity of 100,000 face masks and 150,000 sets of protective clothing, TNG is eyeing not only the domestic market but also overseas clients. Thoi added that TNG plans to export 250 million face masks to France and the Czech Republic in the coming time.

In the meantime, Than Duc Viet, general director of May 10, a garment exporter, said as soon as its garment orders declined when Covid-19 broke out, May 10 acquired new mask production lines. A big contract for 400 million masks worth US$52 million has been concluded, Viet told Tuoi Tre, followed by another placed by a U.S. client for 20 million masks. A customer from Germany has also ordered six million fabric masks and 2 million surgical masks.

That said the hardest nut to crack for Vietnamese mask makers relates to complicated procedures for quality testing both at home and abroad.

Being among the hardest-hit industries during Covid-19, several airlines in Vietnam have announced they would resume flights as of May 16 after the nationwide social distancing was lifted in selected localities. These air carriers are eager to be back to normal because the number of air passengers in Vietnam has dropped to almost zero because of the fear that the pandemic would spread.

To stimulate demand, Vietjet Air and Bamboo Airways have marketed their packages of unlimited flights effective from six months to one year at prices ranging from VND9-17 million.

The Vietjet package allows passengers to have an unlimited number of flights during any of its domestic routes. Passengers purchasing the package will be exempted from 100% of the original air ticket, and have 15kg of free check-in baggage and 7kg of free carry-on baggage. However, flyers are still subject to taxes, fees and additional services, if any.

Time for agricultural production to develop differently

Vietnam’s farm produce export sector has given a surprise despite being severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Statistics show that during the first quarter of 2020, this sector exported products valued at more than US$9 billion, posting a trade surplus of US$2.9 billion, a growth of 49% year-on-year, reported Thanh Nien.

Of the above export sales, rice export accounted for US$774 million, a jump of 27.8%, and woodwork export US$2.62 billion, a rise of 15.9%.

Take rice for example. As Vietnam borders with China, which is a big rice buyer, the country’s rice export is likely to be stable, Prof. Vo Tong Xuan, a veteran agronomist, told Thanh Nien. Similarly, rice demand from Vietnam’s traditional customers—such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia—also remains stable.

Other agricultural export items—primarily fruits, like mango, pineapple and durian, and seafood—can still sell well.

“Vietnam’s potential of agricultural product export is great, especially during the time of the epidemic,” said Xuan. He explained that Vietnam boasts fertile land for agricultural cultivation and relevant sectors, including husbandry and fishery.

Nonetheless, the professor emphasized that despite the potential, it has not been effectively exploited. What Vietnam needs, said Xuan, are long-term strategies designed exclusively for each agricultural sector. Over the past four decades, except for rice, specific schemes for aquatic products—such as shrimp—or fruits—such as mango—have not been available when it comes to development plans for breeding, production methods and after-harvest techniques.

Such a situation must be changed, insisted the professor.

By staff writers

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