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Survey: Covid causes far greater social and economic damage than in 2020

The Saigon Times

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HCMC – The Covid-19 pandemic has been causing more of a negative impact on Vietnam’s socio-economic development in 2021 than it did in 2020, especially concerning individuals’ health and children’s education.

According to a survey, 68% of respondents expressed great concern over their personal health, while 76% were worried about their children’s education.

Covid-19 has negatively impacted employment and income, with 77% of respondents reporting falling incomes, especially among the poor, ethnic minorities, unskilled, non-agricultural self-employed workers, those working in the services sector and those living in areas on protracted lockdown.

These were among the key findings of the sociological survey: “Citizens’ Opinions of and Experiences with Government Responses to Covid-19 Pandemic in Vietnam: Findings from 2nd Round Phone-Based Survey, 2021”.

The survey was conducted by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Mekong Development Research Institute, with support and partnership from the Australian Government’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The respondents indicated a high but declining positive evaluation of the Government’s performance in handling the pandemic from 2020, with 84% of the respondents rating the performance from the central Government as good or very good (compared to 97% in 2020) and 89% rating their provincial governments’ performance as good or very good (94% in 2020). Citizens showed strong support for strict containment measures and less support for closing open markets and schools.

On the accessibility and effectiveness of the Government’s VND26 trillion aid package, the survey showed that the proportion of people receiving the aid package was low. The poor had less access than the wealthy and information about the aid package was lacking among the more disadvantaged people.

Ethnic minorities, rural and poor people were less likely to know about the package than others. For those who received the cash aid, delivery was regarded as timely and as informed, but administrative procedures to get access to the cash aid package were not simple.

In the meantime, electronic public administrative services were not yet utilized during the fourth wave of Covid-19, which began in April. Many still had to submit Covid-19 test results to be admitted to healthcare facilities.

One of the key issues that the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index has pointed out over the past decade has been the suboptimal performance of public hospitals at the district level, which are now an important element in response to the public health crisis.

The survey also reflects the citizens’ preferences and expectations. Despite significant economic impacts, most respondents clearly prioritized health over the economy. Up to 83% of the respondents agreed that “the Government’s highest priority should be saving as many lives as possible, even if it means the economy will sustain more damage and recover slowly”.

UNDP Resident Representative in Vietnam Caitlin Wiesen said, “The Vietnamese experience has demonstrated to the world that public trust and confidence underpin success in government responses.

“The year 2022 is coming with unforeseen challenges ahead of us because the pandemic is still with us and surging in many parts of the world. But with the fast and impressive delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in Vietnam in recent months, together with the citizens’ support for mask mandates and the Government’s agile responses, I believe that Vietnam is well positioned to overcome the challenges and recover soon.”

Moving forward, the survey suggested that citizens’ feedback and preferences on the crisis response are important for the Government to review solutions moving forward, while aid packages should target the poor, the unskilled and seasonal workers as well as those working in the service and tourism sectors.

Besides, community-based support and support from non-governmental organizations, social organizations and charity groups and individuals during the pandemic and similar crises should be appreciated and recognized formally. Simplification of administrative procedures for cash aid packages will ensure the aid is better accessed.

Moreover, e-public services should be reassessed and upgraded to be more user-friendly for the higher utility of contactless means to interact with the Government.

Cherie Russell, Development Counselor from the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, said, “Through these survey results, we have an important opportunity to hear the voices and experiences of Vietnam’s citizens. This evidence then dictates policy decisions and builds more trust within communities for the delivery of these policies.”

Using the Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews method, this intensive survey was conducted from September 17 to October 15, 2021, with the participation of over 1,500 respondents. The aim was to compare the views and experiences of permanent residents in the nation’s 63 cities and provinces in 2021 with those in 2020 and understand the changes before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Phung Duc Tung, President of the Mekong Development Research Institute, said, “This is a very timely and important survey that can provide a clear picture about the experiences and major concerns of households during the lockdown, as well as the efficiency of government interventions and policies. The survey results offer guidelines for designing better interventions and policies for future pandemics.”

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