Why Vietnam took Philippines' spot as worst place to be in COVID

Andreo Calonzo and Nguyen Xuan Quynh

Vietnam was once regarded as a success story in containing COVID-19, reporting only a handful of daily cases for the entire first year of the pandemic. Now it's fallen to the bottom of Bloomberg's COVID Resilience Ranking in December, replacing the Philippines, after a protracted delta outbreak caused deaths to spike and clouded its economic outlook. 

The country's infection rate is hitting records, with more than 10,000 cases a day for the past month, running counter to the rest of Southeast Asia where the virus has started to ebb. More than 200 deaths from COVID-19 are reported every day.  

Students of the 12th grade attend a class at Tran Nhan Tong high school in Hanoi, Vietnam on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. High school seniors had returned to their classrooms in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, for the first time in more than six months as the city eased coronavirus restrictions.

Vietnam is also specifically under pressure because its export sector, which supplies global brands like Nike and Abercrombie & Fitch, has been rocked by shutdowns aimed at halting virus spread. Temporary factory closures and an exodus of workers from virus-hit cities over the third quarter meant that manufacturers were disrupted during the peak holiday production season, which has dimmed the nation's economic outlook for the year. 

The government forecasts gross domestic product to grow 2.5% this year, far below the official target of up to 6.5%, pulling it down in the Ranking. 

Since October, Vietnam has tried to reopen the economy step-by-step, allowing factories to resume operations as long as workers are vaccinated. Nearly 60% of its entire population is now fully inoculated, and the government is ordering more shots for boosters as omicron looms. But with cases still on the rise, officials are considering tightening restrictions again in high-risk localities during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday. 

In contrast, cases and deaths in the Philippines have plummeted to a fraction of their past peaks and restrictions have been eased, pulling up its ranking in December three spots. After enduring repeated lockdowns, people are able to go to indoor restaurants, gyms and cinemas again. Kids are allowed in malls and domestic flights have been picking up. 

As a whole, Southeast Asia continues to lag globally on vaccination, a key reason why the region has populated the bottom of the Ranking for several months now. While Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have fully vaccinated the majority of their populations, and Indonesia and the Philippines have given one shot to more than half of their citizens, their numbers are far behind developed countries where over 90% of eligible populations have received two shots, with boosters now being rushed out.