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Why Did The Vietnamese Communist Party Militarize Its Fight Against COVID-19?

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Photo: AFP/ Reuters. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

When the Ho Chi Minh City authorities decided to deploy troops to enforce an antivirus lockdown during the last week of August 2021, they caught local people off guard.

The move, which came amid the rise in both Covid-19 infections and deaths in the city, has been seen as the last strategic card adopted by the Vietnamese government in its arduous and yet controversial battle to “defeat the virus.” 

According to state media, military troops will help enforce the lockdown until September 15, taking on the duty of barring people from going outside and providing necessities to quarantined residents.

However, this has brought little peace of mind to local communities.

Despite firm reassurances from the local government that military troops would take on the duty of buying and delivering food during the quarantine period, panic buying broke out even before the lockdown, while several opinions circulated on social media cast doubt that the preliminary action was to quell potential riots.

Since the beginning of Covid-19, military-style rhetoric against the disease has appeared frequently in Vietnam’s state-run media and newspapers. 

Some might argue that these grandiose war-like bombasts and military mobilizations are not exclusively confined to Vietnam. Still, given the country’s authoritarian political landscape where speech is often suppressed and orders arbitrarily passed, these have been abused by the Communist government to spread propaganda and shirk off the responsibilities for its failure to handle Covid-19.

Military rhetoric

Vietnam has used military rhetoric since the early phase of the pandemic, with the flashy anti-coronavirus slogan of “fighting the virus as if we are fighting an enemy.” Depicting coronavirus as “an invader,” Vietnamese officials announced a war on the disease, vowing to “defeat” it through drastic operations and comprehensive “tactics.” [1]

In Vietnam’s epidemiological “war,” each person is portrayed [2] as “a soldier.” Each family is “a fortress” in fighting “an invisible enemy,” [3] namely Covid-19. Healthcare workers have been zealously described as “superheroes,” [4] while infected patients are “subjects” [5] who need to be “swept out” [6] of the community.

Last year, in June, when the Communist country successfully contained the first wave of infections and maintained a zero death toll, its leaders declared “a victory” [7] in the battle against Covid-19. Its success, said [8] the deputy prime minister, was primarily thanks to “the leadership of the Party, the state and the entire political system.”

“Fighting the virus as if we are fighting an enemy,” a street board displaying Vietnam’s anti-coronavirus slogan. Photo: AFP.

Looking from the historical perspective, the Vietnamese Communist Party has since boasted about its significant role in defending its independence from French colonialism and American imperialism.

Likewise, the warlike discourse on the coronavirus disease is nothing but a manipulative tactic utilized by the Communist Party to spread propaganda and reinforce its “legitimate” reign on every aspect of Vietnamese society. By intertwining the use of military rhetoric and the country’s previous military victories, the propaganda department has maneuvered the public into believing that the war against Covid will prevail under the Party’s leadership, just as has happened in the past.

The battleground

While the political rhetoric has dominated Vietnam’s state-run newspapers, a military mobilization is simultaneously taking place in real life.

Since August 23, military troops carrying rifles have been present at roadblocks in Ho Chi Minh City. These soldiers have been tasked with checking commuting permissions or delivering food and medicine to local households. The government called in the military to enforce the policy adopted by the city authorities to limit unnecessary movement to help curb the spread of the infection. Meanwhile, a comprehensive propaganda campaign [9] has been implemented to sway public opinion into supporting this strategy.

Almost a week later, as many expected, the army mobilization program began to expose its incompetence and proved ineffective in relieving the burdens of maintaining a stable food supply delivery to Ho Chi Minh City’s citizens. In reality, substantial shopping demands from customers overloaded the capacity of the army’s workforce, causing essential goods to be congested and accumulated at the supply center; at the same time, Vietnam’s daily Covid-19 confirmed cases continue to reach new milestones [10], nearly every passing week.

The failure of this policy eventually compelled local authorities to discontinue the program, allowing [11] delivery drivers to carry out their everyday operations.

Soldiers with rifles and batons guarding roadblocks in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Doc Lap/ Thanh Nien Online.

So why did the Vietnamese authorities still proceed to implement this strategy, as, from the beginning, it had been proved to be inefficient?

The idea of utilizing military force to solve the problem by enforcing stringent lockdowns is also widely supported by pro-government critics on social media. In explaining the failures of Vietnam’s anti-coronavirus strategy, they argue, it is due to the lack of city residents’ discipline in complying with health guidelines, not from the state’s inefficient policies in handling the pandemic. And imposing stricter measures, such as conducting a martial-style intervention, could help improve the ongoing situation.

According to Huynh Cong Duong, [12] a writer for Luat Khoa Magazine, this tumultuous circumstance represents an underlying effort by the Vietnamese government to shift the blame to citizens. The consequence of this blame-shifting mindset, Huynh Cong Duong concludes, might “pose a significant threat” to civilian efforts on public issues, such as health and social security and the future of policy building in the country.


As the aggressive hyperbole and military approach appear to be of little help, the Vietnamese Communist Party has to adopt more practical methods to get ahead in the fight against the coronavirus. There are two options that the Party might consider.

Firstly, the government needs to admit the loopholes and mistakes in its anti-coronavirus policies and make human rights matters more inclusive in the epidemiological protocols.

Secondly, when the public’s trust in the government and state media is severely eroding, the Communist authorities should recognize and promote the critical role of Vietnam’s civil society organizations and religious groups in picking up the slack where they struggle. [13] Not only do civil society and religions help alleviate the effects of Covid-19 on local communities, but they also become a beacon of reassurance and hope [14] for Vietnamese people during these challenging times, an important mission that none of the Party mouthpieces or army units could ever accomplish.

It is time for the Communist Party to adjust its approach towards the Covid-19 pandemic.

References:

  1. Những chiến thuật của Việt Nam trước “giặc” COVID-19. (2020, April 20). VietnamPlus. https://special.vietnamplus.vn/2020/04/20/chien-thuat-chong-covid-19-viet-nam/
  2. TP.HCM: Phát huy tinh thần “mỗi người dân là một chiến sĩ; mỗi gia đình, tổ dân phố, khu phố là một pháo đài chống dịch.” (2021, May 27). HCDC. https://hcdc.vn/category/thong-tin/viem-phoi-cap-do-virus-ncov/tphcm-phat-huy-tinh-than-moi-nguoi-dan-la-mot-chien-si-moi-gia-dinh-to-dan-pho-khu-pho-la-mot-phao-dai-chong-dich-67931aad42e0787f04c62ab852e6c0d2.html
  3. Hoa, Q. (2021, August 8). Quyết liệt hành động để sớm đẩy lùi “kẻ thù vô hình” COVID-19. VietnamPlus. https://www.vietnamplus.vn/quyet-liet-hanh-dong-de-som-day-lui-ke-thu-vo-hinh-covid19/732256.vnp
  4. Khuong, T. (2021, June 26). Hàng ngàn bức thư tay sưởi ấm các ‘siêu anh hùng’ chống dịch Covid-19 ở TP.HCM. Thanh Nien Online. https://thanhnien.vn/doi-song/hang-ngan-buc-thu-tay-suoi-am-cac-sieu-anh-hung-chong-dich-covid-19-o-tphcm-1400833.html
  5. L.Đ.O. (2021, August 8). Thông tin mới nhất về những đối tượng F0 COVID-19 được cách ly tại nhà. Lao Dong Online. https://laodong.vn/suc-khoe/thong-tin-moi-nhat-ve-nhung-doi-tuong-f0-covid-19-duoc-cach-ly-tai-nha-939623.ldo
  6. Not, T. (2021, August 17). Chủ tịch tỉnh An Giang kêu gọi chung tay quét sạch F0. Lao Dong Online. https://nld.com.vn/thoi-su/chu-tich-tinh-an-giang-keu-goi-chung-tay-quet-sach-f0-20210817114001702.htm
  7. D. Hai & D. Linh, D. H. D. L. (2020, June 14). Tại sao Việt Nam chiến thắng dịch COVID-19? Vietnam Ministry of Health. https://ncov.moh.gov.vn/en/-/tai-sao-viet-nam-chien-thang-dich-covid-19-
  8. Ibid., [7]
  9. Quan, V. V. (2021, August 31). Quân đội “lo từ A đến Z” và những kỹ thuật tuyên truyền chính trị kinh điển. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/08/quan-doi-lo-tu-a-den-z-va-nhung-ky-thuat-tuyen-truyen-chinh-tri-kinh-dien/
  10. Nga, L. (2021, August 30). Vietnam confirms 14,219 new Covid-19 cases. VnExpress. https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/vietnam-confirms-14-219-new-covid-19-cases-4348606.html
  11. Đi chợ hộ tại TP HCM: Quân đội “chào thua”, shipper trở lại. (2021, August 30). BBC Vietnamese. https://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/vietnam-58381909
  12. Duong, H. C. (2021, August 25). Cảm tình quân phiệt trên đường phố Sài Gòn. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/08/cam-tinh-quan-phiet-tren-duong-pho-sai-gon/
  13. Luke Hunt. (2021, July 28). In Vietnam, Civil Society Is Picking up the Slack Where Authorities Struggle. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2021/07/in-vietnam-civil-society-is-picking-up-the-slack-where-authorities-struggle/
  14. Thanh, T. (2021, August 22). Trong hoảng loạn, tôn giáo đang giúp trấn an – việc mà nhà nước không làm được. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/08/trong-hoang-loan-ton-giao-dang-giup-tran-an-viec-ma-nha-nuoc-khong-lam-duoc/

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A Vietnamese Sentenced To Five Years In Jail For “Spreading Coronavirus”: Rules For The People But Not For The Government

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Photo credit (left to right): Vietnamnet/ Bao Ca Mau/ phutho.gov.vn. Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

Last week, on September 6, when the news of a Vietnamese man being sentenced to five years in prison for “transmitting coronavirus” by a court in Ca Mau Province made international headlines, it vehemently startled a substantial number of foreign readers.

One day later, in the country’s southernmost province of Ca Mau, a local doctor was officially prosecuted for having “irresponsible manners which cause serious consequences.” More specifically, he was accused [1] of spreading coronavirus by deliberately administering treatment to an ill patient without properly testing him for coronavirus and informing local authorities of the case. The patient later tested positive for COVID-19.

Looking back a little further, in June, a Protestant church in Ho Chi Minh City, Revival Ekklesia Mission, became [2] an unlikely scapegoat for a wave of criticisms targeting them for hosting religious events, which are believed to have eventually led to a significant coronavirus outbreak in the city. The church’s founding pastors, a husband, and a wife were then officially charged under criminal prosecution for “transmitting dangerous infectious diseases to other people.” The wife, nonetheless, firmly believed that her church was not the source of the new cluster since they always correctly followed health guidelines from local authorities.

In reality, these are just a few examples among dozens of similar cases where individuals have been targeted, fined, or charged under causes of “deliberately spreading disease” or “flouting anti-coronavirus measures” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Vietnam. In most cases, the defendants are working-class citizens struggling to make ends meet day by day. Now, they are facing pending criminal prosecutions and harsh criticisms from state media for their alleged “recklessness and indiscipline.”

Setting aside all legal grounds for imprisoning or penalizing citizens on charges of “spreading disease,” it is utterly unfair how criminal prosecutions are deployed to punish ordinary people. At the same time, the Vietnamese government is given a free pass, despite being responsible for mishandling the coronavirus through controversial policies and their fault in hosting mass gathering events that could have been the original cluster of the current COVID-19 outbreaks.

Who is responsible for the current wave of infections?

Not long before the current wave of COVID-19 infections in Vietnam, which has had a catastrophic effect on the country’s economy and healthcare system, the Vietnamese government was confident that it had put coronavirus under its heel through the conventional methods of isolation and contact tracing.

The complacent attitudes caused by the nation’s initial success in containing the virus, according to Major General Vu Quoc Binh [3], a former military medical director, have led to a “perplexing” situation where the authorities made mistakes in allowing large crowds to gather before the ongoing outbreak, being assured that the situation was still controllable. Meanwhile, the government did not prioritize vaccination when case numbers were still low, he added.

In late April, when the Delta variant was believed to have arrived in Vietnam [4], people were still allowed to freely travel across the country during a long holiday without being given any preventive measures. Only around 0,01 percent [5] of the country’s population was fully vaccinated at that time.

On May 23, the country’s general election day, Vietnamese citizens were encouraged to directly go to voting polls to elect their National Assembly representatives in a large rubber-stamp legislative council; at the same time, COVID-19 infections started to break out in several northern provinces. On the other hand, the government vowed to “successfully organize” the political event at the cost of potential coronavirus transmission due to mass gatherings at the polls.

A voting poll in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: hcmcpv.org.vn.

About one month later, in late June, the Vietnamese Ministry of Education still proceeded with [6] a plan to hold the national graduation examinations on July 7 and 8, which would take place in all of the country’s 63 provinces and municipalities. For instance, in Ho Chi Minh City, it was estimated [7] that nearly 90,000 students, along with 15,000 examiners, would be gathering in around 160 locations in the city to take part in the exams. At the time, daily coronavirus infections in Ho Chi Minh City stood at a 3-digit number; in late July, the city started to record [8] thousands of new confirmed cases every day.

The examples mentioned above have not considered other significant missteps by the government, including an identity card registration program, where local residents were asked to replace their old identity cards with electronic ones at police stations, which nurtured an environment for disease transmission.

In addition, there were the chaotic scenes of cramped vaccination venues [9] and congestion roadblocks [10] where people were crowded together to show their “travel permits,” a scheme used to limit the number of commuters on the streets. Overall, they exposed that the Vietnamese authorities’ mismanagement and inefficient plans harm more than good in improving the pandemic.

Scapegoating the vulnerables

From those experiences, it is conceivable that the current spread of virus infections is possibly the consequence of the Vietnamese government’s mishandling of the disease. However, none of the officials responsible for such failure has been held accountable, punished, or voluntarily resigned in the same way that other ordinary citizens have been fined, prosecuted, and jailed for “spreading infectious diseases.”

Those indictments and the imprisonment of people for allegedly violating anti-coronavirus protocols are not only unfair, but they also do not effectively fix the root cause of the ongoing problem.

In its purest form, the punishments applied have not necessarily been aimed at controlling or preventing the spread of the disease but rather to intimidate the public and shift blame to more vulnerable subjects through a scapegoating strategy [11].

Most of the time, violators of pandemic regulations have been blamed for their “lack of discipline” for flouting COVID-19 laws, such as avoiding complying with compulsory isolation rules or declaring health conditions. However, these indications are invincibly reflecting the true feelings of local residents during this tumultuous time: scared, hopeless and angry.

COVID-19 patients protested in a quarantine camp in Binh Duong Province over the shortage of food and necessities. Photo: Tin Tuc Viet Nam.

Most Vietnamese people have been in dire straits since the country went into periodic lockdowns earlier this year. They are scared of being taken to poor and unclean quarantine facilities if tested positive while no one can take care of their sick parents or young children. Some people face financial strains and have lost hope that they will not return to their hometowns due to strict lockdown measures. At the same time, many others become angry that high-level government officials were somehow immune to punishment for breaking social distancing rules [12] while ordinary people would receive heavy fines [13] for doing so. These stories provide us a more authentic picture of the ongoing anti-coronavirus scheme in Vietnam.

If the “war against COVID-19 [14],” an ostentatious metaphor commonly used by the Communist Party, does exist, the ordinary Vietnamese people are the losers of this battle.

References:

  1. Duc, V. (2021, September 7). Khởi tố bác sỹ làm lây lan dịch bệnh. Báo Công An Nhân Dân. https://cand.com.vn/Phap-luat/khoi-to-bac-sy-lam-lay-lan-dich-benh–i627297/
  2. Richard C. Paddock, Chau Doan. (2021, June 2). Spared for Months, Vietnam Faces a Wave of New Infections. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/02/world/asia/vietnam-covid-ho-chi-minh.html
  3. Bac Pham, Bennett Murray. (2021, September 14). Counting the cost of Vietnam’s Covid meltdown. Asia Times. https://asiatimes.com/2021/09/counting-the-cost-of-vietnams-covid-meltdown/
  4. Huong, L. T. (2021, August 11). Delta variant outbreak challenges Vietnam’s COVID-19 response strategy. The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/08/11/delta-variant-outbreak-challenges-vietnams-covid-19-response-strategy/
  5. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccinations. (n.d.). Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations
  6. Huynh, T. (2021, June 26). Bộ GD-ĐT: 63 tỉnh, thành tổ chức thi tốt nghiệp THPT đợt 1 cùng ngày. Tuoi Tre Online. https://tuoitre.vn/bo-gd-dt-63-tinh-thanh-to-chuc-thi-tot-nghiep-thpt-dot-1-cung-ngay-20210626200317418.htm
  7. L.Đ.O. (2021, June 30). TPHCM “mạo hiểm” khi tổ chức thi tốt nghiệp THPT đợt 1? Lao Dong Online. https://laodong.vn/giao-duc/tphcm-mao-hiem-khi-to-chuc-thi-tot-nghiep-thpt-dot-1-925514.ldo
  8. Hang, T. (2021, July 24). 3.991 ca mắc COVID-19 sáng 24/7, nhiều nhất vẫn là TP Hồ Chí Minh. Báo Công An Nhân Dân. https://cand.com.vn/y-te/Sang-24-7-them-3-991-ca-mac-COVID-19-Long-An-bo-sung-them-1-288-ca-benh-i621409/
  9. Huong, T. (2021, June 25). TP.HCM: Hàng ngàn người xếp hàng chờ tiêm vắc xin Covid-19 ở Nhà thi đấu Phú Thọ. Thanh Nien Online. https://thanhnien.vn/thoi-su/tphcm-hang-ngan-nguoi-xep-hang-cho-tiem-vac-xin-covid-19-o-nha-thi-dau-phu-tho-1404282.html
  10. LĐO. (2021, September 6). Chốt kiểm soát “vùng đỏ” Hà Nội lại đông đúc: Có lúng túng, dễ lây nhiễm. Lao Dong Online. https://laodong.vn/y-te/chot-kiem-soat-vung-do-ha-noi-lai-dong-duc-co-lung-tung-de-lay-nhiem-950298.ldo
  11. Minh, H. (2021, June 4). Đại dịch, bản năng đổ lỗi, và những cuộc săn dê tế thần. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/06/dai-dich-ban-nang-do-loi-va-nhung-cuoc-san-de-te-than/
  12. Chinh, Y. K. (2021, September 16). Ý thức chống dịch: dân trí thấp hay quan trí lỏng? Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/09/y-thuc-chong-dich-dan-tri-thap-hay-quan-tri-long/
  13. Thiet, K. (2021, August 10). Thêm 16 trường hợp bị xử phạt vì ra đường tập thể dục, bất chấp quy định phòng chống dịch. Báo Đồng Nai Điện Tử. http://www.baodongnai.com.vn/tintuc/202108/them-16-truong-hop-bi-xu-phat-vi-ra-duong-tap-the-duc-bat-chap-quy-dinh-phong-chong-dich-3072372/
  14. Jason, N. (2021, September 12). Why Did The Vietnamese Communist Party Militarize Its Fight Against COVID-19? The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/09/why-did-the-vietnamese-communist-party-militarize-its-fight-against-covid-19/

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State Media And Social Media During The COVID-19 Pandemic: A Tale Of Two Cities In Vietnam

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Photo credit: VTV, Cong Luan, Ministry of Health (background photos); Thanh Nien Online, Facebook, VOV (other photos). Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine.

It is probably one of the worst times for Vietnam right now. The latest wave of Covid-19 infections has pushed Vietnam into both a healthcare and a media crisis. Once envied for its low death toll and effective methods to contain the virus, the Communist nation is now struggling to keep itself afloat as the rapid transmission of the new Delta variant overwhelms the healthcare capacity of its many provinces and municipalities.

Last year, when the first cases of Covid-19 began to emerge in the country, the Vietnamese government actively utilized its state media apparatus to promote anti-coronavirus measures, deliver nationalistic and heroic messages [1] to target local audiences, as well as project its initial success in containing the disease by quoting praises from international media and experts.

However, the latest outbreak, which created an unprecedented crisis, has driven state media to adopt new propaganda tactics. Similar to the Chinese authorities’ media strategy, [2] when coronavirus first broke out in Wuhan, the Vietnamese government proactively covered up the truth, silenced independent voices, and pushed optimistic narratives to sway public attention away from the reality on the ground.

Amid the worsening Covid-19 predicament, many social media users in Vietnam chose social networks to share their personal experiences and to seek financial and medical help from the community. This circumstance has thus created a stark contrast between the government’s efforts to portray a positive picture of the pandemic and the appalling stories shared by ordinary citizens.

The Vietnamese Magazine has analyzed the contents from both state media and public postings on social networking sites in Vietnam to create a more comprehensive picture of the current situation through three main criteria: the reports of state-owned media regarding the death toll, the government’s assistance for affected individuals, and the vaccination program.

The Death Toll Cover-up

As of this writing, Vietnam has recorded [3] over 265,000 Covid-19 infections, with around 100,000 recoveries and more than 5,000 deaths. The country’s recent daily infections tally is about 6,000 to 9,000 cases.

Since the beginning of August, when the coronavirus situation began to worsen, numerous real-life stories and videos have started circulating on Vietnamese social media. These postings, which are done primarily by ordinary citizens, exposed the grim condition of Vietnam’s healthcare facilities, the struggle of impoverished people in quarantined areas, and the harrowing scenes of long lines of ambulances carrying the coffins of Covid-19 victims to cemeteries.

Despite their accurate portrayal of the current situation during the time they were released, that footage was mainly absent on the country’s official news channels. On the other hand, state media has ramped up its censorship on these disturbing details and has also diverted public attention towards the mishandling of the pandemic by other foreign countries.

A long trail of ambulances was seen parked on the road leading to Binh Hung Hoa Cemetery, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Le Phan/ Tuoi Tre Online.

In the past few weeks, when daily Covid-19 mortality rates began to spike, almost all major newspapers and broadcasting channels in the country avoided mentioning or reporting [4] on the details of the death toll. Instead, their reports focused on the number of recoveries and emphasized the severity of the situations in other neighboring Southeast Asian countries.

For instance, Thanh Nien Online, a state-owned newspaper, last reported [5] on coronavirus-related deaths in Vietnam on July 29, despite its previous regular updates of the number. This news outlet nevertheless diverted its reports on death tolls from Vietnam to Indonesia [6] and Thailand [7]. 

Other online news outlets, such as Vietnamnet [8] and Tuoi Tre Online,[9] last reported on the number of Covid-19 deaths in Vietnam on July 30 and August 3, respectively. At the same time, VTV, the Communist Party’s most significant broadcasting mouthpiece, asked [10] its audience to spread “positive information” instead of dwelling on “negative and less optimistic” news to overcome the pandemic.

This manipulative approach to the media further raises public concerns about the authenticity of the government’s official statistics, and at the same time, casts lingering suspicion among Vietnamese citizens on whether or not the actual scenario is far worse than the state media’s reportage.

Welfare for the Poor: Promises and Reality

Besides grappling with the surge of new Covid-19 infections, Vietnam is also facing an economic and welfare crisis as the livelihoods of millions of its citizens are being jeopardized for the sake of rigid anti-coronavirus measures.

During the lockdown periods, a significant number of civil society groups on social media, as well as SOSmap.net, a project established by citizens, have begun operations in Vietnam. These social and technical incentives act as open platforms to connect bringers of goodwill to those in need. People can post their requests or promises to help on these platforms for a variety of purposes – from donating food and providing financial aid, to giving medical advice, and the like.

These online platforms, despite differing in scope and geographic location, all have one thing in common: they are flooded with waves of hopeless calls for help from ordinary citizens, [11] of all of whom are negatively affected by harsh lockdown measures. In the majority of cases, the victims are contractors and manual workers who face financial difficulties or food shortages due to unemployment; many of them receive little or no support from the government.

A mass exodus of workers has also been seen fleeing [12] Ho Chi Minh City and other southern industrial provinces as the number of coronavirus cases surged in the region, while many factory workers and prisoners of conscience are at risk of getting infected due to poor working and living conditions.

An exodus of people, mostly contracting workers, have fled Ho Chi Minh City to overcome financial difficulties due to strict lockdown measures. Photo: Thanh Quan/ Thanh Nien Online.

But on state media, their hopeless voices are barely mentioned. They are often drowned-out to pave the way for a medley of political discourses,[13] victory speeches, [14] and firm guarantees of “letting no one starve” [15] from the government. According to our analysis, mainstream newspapers and broadcasting channels in Vietnam generally choose to report only on the positive sides of the migrant workers’ crisis, praise [16] the local authorities for their “timely” assistance for affected families, and simultaneously avoid mentioning the country leaders’ mistakes which helped lead to the current situation.

Needless to say, the propaganda narratives mentioned above have two primary aims: placating the public and circumventing the Vietnamese authorities’ own failure in providing basic necessities to its people. Since freedom of the press is a concept that does not exist in Vietnam, the media is nothing but the Party’s effective tool to bend public opinion to its will.

An article from a state-owned newspaper claimed that all contracting workers in Ho Chi Minh City had been financially supported (left), while a local neighborhood argued that they had received nothing from the government (right). Photo: screenshot/ Facebook post.

The Vaccination Triad

Meanwhile, as Vietnam struggles to contain the spread of Covid-19, its citizens are encouraged to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity [17] “in the shortest amount of time.” According to official statistics, [18] as of July 31, around 1.5 million vaccine doses have been given in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest Covid-19 hotspot, while health authorities ensure that “around 99 percent of the population above 18 years of age [in the city] will be vaccinated.”

The same rhetoric of hope and assurance, as expected, are also dominating the country’s state media.

Although the vaccination plan sounds promising, state-owned media fail to consider three key shortcomings that could hinder the country’s progress towards achieving its immunity goal. These challenges include Vietnam’s ongoing shortage of Covid-19 vaccines, low rates of immunization [19] and the people’s hesitancy to get Chinese-made jabs.

Earlier, a decision from Ho Chi Minh City authorities to use the Chinese-made Sinopharm in its inoculation program due to the vaccine scarcity problem has drawn public opposition and criticism. People’s concerns over the efficacy of these vaccinations, the significant lack of transparency of government officials about their vaccination status and which types of vaccines were given to the officials, and deep-rooted anti-China sentiments among many Vietnamese are believed to be the reasons for such reactions.

On social media platforms such as Facebook, public opinion expressing objections to Chinese vaccines have sparked thousands of interactions. At the same time, many of the commenters claimed that they would reject the made-in-China vaccinations if given a chance. 

The hostility also takes place under actual circumstances. A week ago, long lines of local people were seen angrily leaving a vaccination venue in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. They were informed by the vaccination venue that they would be given Sinopharm shots since that center had run out of AstraZeneca vaccines.

Local people seen leaving a vaccination venue in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, after being informed that they would receive Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccines. Photo: screenshot/ VOV.

On state-owned news channels, none of these stories has been adequately reported. Instead, the common headlines regarding the current vaccination campaign in Vietnam mostly boast [20] the country’s rapid rate of inoculations, reassure [21] the public of an abundant vaccine supply, or urge [22] the people to get Sinopharm while endorsing its high effectiveness against Covid-19.

The ongoing vaccination fiasco is yet another example of the Communist Party attempting to control the flow of public discourse, debate, and opinion.

The stories they peddle in mainstream media and the experiences of ordinary citizens rarely overlap; they portray two different truths: the alternative reality of the Party and the reality on the ground.

Once again, the vulnerable people’s frantic calls for help are suppressed and overpowered by the Party’s extravagant mouthpieces.

Bibliography:

  1. Lena, L. (2020, June 24). Nationalism, heroism and media in Vietnam’s war on COVID-19. East Asia Forum. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2020/06/24/nationalism-heroism-and-media-in-vietnams-war-on-covid-19/
  2. Muyi Xiao, Drew Jordan, Meg Felling And Christoph Koettl. (2020, March 18). How China Is Reshaping the Coronavirus Narrative. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/asia/100000007024807/china-coronavirus-propaganda.html
  3. The Vietnamese Magazine. (2021, August 16). Vietnam Briefing: Exoduses In Kabul And Saigon, At The Same Time, For Different Reasons. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/08/vietnam-briefing-exoduses-in-kabul-and-saigon-at-the-same-time-for-different-reasons/
  4. Minh, H. (2021, August 14). Điều VTV không nói: hơn 5.000 người đã chết vì COVID-19 ở Việt Nam. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/08/dieu-vtv-khong-noi-hon-5000-nguoi-da-chet-vi-covid-19-o-viet-nam/
  5. Chau, L. (2021, July 29). Thêm 4.323 bệnh nhân khỏi bệnh; 233 ca tử vong do Covid-19 trong 8 ngày qua. Thanh Niên Online. https://thanhnien.vn/thoi-su/them-4323-benh-nhan-khoi-benh-233-ca-tu-vong-do-covid-19-trong-8-ngay-qua-1422364.html
  6. Vi, L. (2021, August 4). Số ca tử vong do Covid-19 vượt mốc 100.000, Indonesia đánh giá đã qua đỉnh dịch. Thanh Niên Online. https://thanhnien.vn/video/the-gioi/so-ca-tu-vong-do-covid-19-vuot-moc-100000-indonesia-danh-gia-da-qua-dinh-dich-164860v.html
  7. A, Đ. (2021, August 5). Nhân viên nhà xác Thái Lan ngất xỉu vì số ca tử vong tăng cao. Thanh Niên Online. https://thanhnien.vn/the-gioi/nhan-vien-nha-xac-thai-lan-ngat-xiu-vi-so-ca-tu-vong-tang-cao-1425575.html
  8.  Lien, N. (2021, July 30). Việt Nam công bố thêm 159 bệnh nhân Covid-19 tử vong. Vietnamnet. https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/suc-khoe/viet-nam-cong-bo-them-159-benh-nhan-covid-19-tu-vong-761050.html
  9. Anh, L. (2021, August 3). Sáng 3–8: Thêm 3.578 ca mắc COVID-19, hôm qua là ngày tiêm vắc xin nhiều nhất tới nay. Tuổi Trẻ Online. https://tuoitre.vn/sang-3-8-them-3-578-ca-mac-covid-19-hom-qua-la-ngay-tiem-vac-xin-nhieu-nhat-toi-nay-20210802201648193.htm
  10. Chuyển động 24h tối – 10/8/2021. (2021, August 10). VTV. https://vtv.vn/video/chuyen-dong-24h-toi-10-8-2021-514933.htm
  11. Tinh, N. (2021, August 6). Dân kêu cứu khắp nơi, chính quyền thì đang làm gì? Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/08/dan-keu-cuu-khap-noi-chinh-quyen-thi-dang-lam-gi/
  12. Jason, N. (2021, August 4). Vietnam: In The Middle Of The COVID-19 Pandemic, They Are The Ones Being Left Behind. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/08/vietnam-in-the-middle-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-they-are-the-ones-being-left-behind/
  13.  B.S. (2021, July 30). Cần chống dịch quyết liệt hơn với những giải pháp đặc biệt. Báo Công An Nhân Dân. https://cand.com.vn/Su-kien-Binh-luan-thoi-su/Can-chong-dich-nghiem-ngat-hon-quyet-liet-hon-voi-nhung-giai-phap-dac-biet-vi-an-toan-hanh-phuc-am-no-cua-nhan-dan-i622263/
  14. Truong, X. (2021, August 14). Thủ tướng: “Nhất định chúng ta sẽ sớm chiến thắng đại dịch COVID-19.” VTC News. https://vtc.vn/thu-tuong-nhat-dinh-chung-ta-se-som-chien-thang-dai-dich-covid-19-ar630743.html
  15. Hoa, Đ. D. (2021, August 2). Không để cho dân đói trong đại dịch. Vietnamnet. https://vietnamnet.vn/vn/tuanvietnam/tieudiem/khong-de-cho-dan-doi-trong-dai-dich-covid-19-761973.html
  16.  Minh, B. (2021, July 20). Gói hỗ trợ 26 nghìn tỷ đồng: “Sự động viên kịp thời.” Dân Trí. https://dantri.com.vn/an-sinh/goi-ho-tro-26-nghin-ty-dong-su-dong-vien-kip-thoi-20210719210750222.htm
  17. Tiêm hết vaccine cho người dân TPHCM để đạt miễn dịch cộng đồng sớm nhất. (2021, July 31). Ministry of Health. https://moh.gov.vn/hoat-dong-cua-lanh-dao-bo/-/asset_publisher/TW6LTp1ZtwaN/content/tiem-het-vaccine-cho-nguoi-dan-tphcm-e-at-mien-dich-cong-ong-som-nhat
  18.  Ibid., [17]
  19. Reuters. (2021, August 13). Vietnam concerned over vaccine supply as COVID-19 cases near record. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/vietnam-concerned-over-vaccine-supply-covid-19-cases-near-record-2021-08-12/
  20. Nguyen, T. (2021, August 11). Tốc độ tiêm vaccine COVID-19 đang tăng nhanh những ngày gần đây. Báo Tin Tức. https://baotintuc.vn/y-te/toc-do-tiem-vaccine-covid19-dang-tang-nhanh-nhung-ngay-gan-day-20210811181034442.htm
  21. L.Đ.O. (2021b, August 10). Bộ trưởng Bộ Y tế: Việt Nam sẽ đón số lượng lớn vaccine phòng COVID-19. Lao Động Online. https://laodong.vn/y-te/bo-truong-bo-y-te-viet-nam-se-don-so-luong-lon-vaccine-phong-covid-19-940407.ldo
  22. Nam, K. (2021, August 12). Đừng để thốt lên “Giá như. . .” khi đã quá muộn. Trang Tin Điện Tử Đảng Bộ Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh. https://www.hcmcpv.org.vn/tin-tuc/dung-de-thot-len-gia-nhu%E2%80%A6-khi-da-qua-muon-1491882335

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Vietnam: In The Middle Of The COVID-19 Pandemic, They Are The Ones Being Left Behind

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Photo credit: Canva (background photo). Twitter/ RFA/ AFP (other photos). Graphic: The Vietnamese Magazine

Since the first infections were detected in the country, Vietnam has surpassed [1] 100,000 Covid-19 cases spanning 62 out of its 63 provinces and more than 1,000 deaths. As the pandemic shows no signs of vanishing anytime soon, especially in the southern provinces, this Southeast Asian country faces both a healthcare and economic crisis.

The Vietnamese Communist Party, as usual, has been deploying propaganda, at maximum capacity, to placate the public. Vigorous slogans, from promises of “leaving no one behind” to “protecting people’s lives remain a top priority” [2], are dominating state media and pro-government online groups on social media.

However, the reality is far gloomier than the Party’s political discourse.

Besides revealing the darker side [3] of Vietnam’s epidemiological strategy, the pandemic also deepens the increasingly widening gap between the haves and have-nots and between the people with power and those without. 

The Workers

According to the Vietnam General Statistics Office report, [4] nearly 13 million workers were negatively affected by the economic downturn caused by the third and fourth wave of Covid-19 outbreaks. This number includes [5] about 557,000 people who lost their jobs, 4.3 million people who had their working hours cut, those who had to take time off from work or had to rotate shifts, and another 8.5 million who had their income reduced.

The pandemic has had an impartial effect on the Vietnamese labor market, but so far, freelance and manual workers are among those who got hit the hardest.

In Vietnam, the term “freelance workers” has a very different connotation compared to the West. This workforce primarily consists of senior citizens, the impoverished, and college graduates, who lack physical health and certain skills that the average employer often deems necessary. They are known for doing various unskilled jobs, such as being street vendors, motorbike drivers, lottery ticket sellers, and the like.

These freelance workers usually rely on their own labor to make ends meet daily while lacking health insurance and many personal savings, so they are at a greater risk of getting infected with the coronavirus or becoming financially strained under lockdown measures and other anti-coronavirus restrictions. Furthermore, stagnant economic activities, coupled with the government’s ineffective financial assistance schemes, seem to add [6] to their struggle.

A street vendor in Da Nang City. Photo: RFA.

At the same time, factory workers, the backbone of Vietnam’s export-oriented economy, are also facing another set of challenges in the midst of the pandemic.

When coronavirus infections started to spread inside many factories during the latest outbreak, most workers were required to be quarantined inside their workplaces while continuing production in a strategy known as “dual goal.” [7] This strategy aimed to control infections while at the same time maintaining industrial production.

However, risky working environments and the factories’ poor accommodations have sparked anger among many workers, causing them to flee their workplaces. Meanwhile, on social media, many people have also expressed their disagreement with the decisions of local authorities, repeatedly condemning [8] them for compromising workers’ health for cash.

Besides rigid anti-coronavirus measures, the “ho khau” system, a household registration scheme used in Vietnam, has created another burden for these unskilled workers, especially for migrants from poorer provinces seeking manual jobs in big cities and industrial zones.

More specifically, this household registration system denies migrant workers the eligibility to receive public services and welfare assistance where they temporarily live and work, such as healthcare and education, unless they register with local police.

Many migrant workers chose to return to their hometowns by motorbikes. Photo: Người Huế ở Sì Gòn (Facebook group)/ BBC Vietnamese.

Nevertheless, Vietnam’s bureaucratic public services, alongside rampant corruption in the registration process, leaves many of them living illegally without legitimate status. As a result, when several southern industrial provinces and the economic hub of Ho Chi Minh City remained under lockdown to battle the latest outbreak of Covid-19, a large number of these employees were left with no choice but to return to their hometowns to avoid infection and to overcome the financial difficulties caused by their unemployment.

Over the past few weeks, a massive exodus of migrant workers has been seen, with workers risking their lives on arduous journeys to go back home. Many choose motorbikes, and some attempted to make it on foot, [9] with several unfortunate souls losing their lives along the way. In response, several provinces have publicized official announcements citing the Covid-19 infection risk to urge migrant workers not to return home [10] or to “go back to where they started.” [11]

This dire situation has led to an outcry on Vietnamese social media. Many users are questioning the government’s response and criticizing its failure to provide financial assistance to these people, secure safer means of homebound transportation, and provide housing in adequate quarantine facilities.

A worker walked more than 180 km in 16 days from Dak Lak Province to his sister’s house in Binh Phuoc Province, as he did not have enough money for a bus ride. Photo: Zing News/ provided by the worker.

Inmates, Prisoners of Conscience, and Addicts

Multiple prisons and rehabilitation centers, especially in several southern localities, have also become new hotspots of infections during the fourth wave of the Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam.

On July 7, local authorities declared [12] that Chi Hoa Prison, a detention center located in Ho Chi Minh City, had recorded more than 80 people infected with Covid-19, including detainees and correctional officers. As the situation worsened, riots began to erupt [13] inside the facility as the rapid spread of coronavirus fueled fear among hundreds of inmates.

A few weeks later, on July 23, all of the staff and addicts [14] at Bo La Rehabilitation Center, a facility located in the southern province of Binh Duong, tested positive for Covid-19. At the same time, a mental health hospital in Ho Chi Minh City also diverted a part of its functionality to treat Covid-19 patients, including many infected mental health patients, as surging cases overloaded healthcare capacity in the city.

The infrastructure of detention and rehabilitation centers in Vietnam in general and other public facilities have long been infamously known for their degradation, poor living conditions, and maltreatment of prisoners and patients.

Riot police vans were seen leaving the Chi Hoa Prison after reportedly being deployed to quell riots. Photo courtesy: Dinh Van/ VnExpress.

Several family members of prisoners of conscience have also expressed their concerns over the safety of their relatives amid the Covid-19 situation. During interviews with RFA Vietnamese, [16] many expressed concerns that the proximity of sleeping quarters, poor living conditions, and limited information about the prisoners threaten the well-being of the people being kept inside the cells.

Currently, prisoners, addicts, and mental health patients are not part of the official list [17] of 16 qualified priority groups to receive Covid-19 vaccinations, despite promises of future vaccination opportunities. However, given Vietnam’s ongoing vaccine shortage, these people will likely be the last to receive the vaccine.

Other Vulnerable Groups

The latest vaccination scandals [18] include a woman and her husband being prioritized to get vaccinated thanks to her father’s connections and a decision from Ho Chi Minh City authorities to lend Vingroup, a local conglomerate, 5,000 Moderna doses from the COVAX initiative to inoculate its staff, raise questions about equal access to the Covid-19 vaccine for all Vietnamese citizens.

From a broader perspective, the political landscape in Vietnam is deepening the inequality in vaccine distribution. Government officials with strong connections or powerful corporations with economic clout can “cut in line” [19] to get vaccinated first, taking away inoculation opportunities from others, especially those who are most vulnerable once infected.

As of July 19, [20] Ho Chi Minh City has officially begun vaccinating older adults and patients with underlying health conditions in the fifth phase of its inoculation campaign. Still, authorities have neither provided further information on the screening process nor medical assistance should side effects occur in these high-risk groups. Meanwhile, vaccination schedules for other vulnerable groups, such as the homeless, war veterans, and the disabled have remained undisclosed.

Homeless people in Ho Chi Minh City amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Lao Dong.

The Communist Party, since the very first days of its establishment, has prided itself on being “a Party of the people, of the working class.” [21] The Party manifests its ideology in the notion that their ultimate goals are “nothing other than the interests of the [working] class, the people and the nation” to build a more “democratic, wealthy and equal Vietnam.”

Almost a century later, the Covid-19 pandemic has fully uncovered what the Party has been dedicating its whole lifespan to achieving benefits for itself and those living dependent on the corrupt system. Ironically, the poor, migrant workers or prisoners of conscience have never been of great concern to the Communist regime.

As the dark clouds of Covid-19 continue to loom large over Vietnam, the tragic fates of those voiceless and powerless people mentioned above seem astoundingly more genuine than the Party’s empty promises.

Bibliography:

  1. Số liệu Covid-19 tại Việt Nam. (2021, August 2). VnExpress. https://vnexpress.net/covid-19/covid-19-viet-nam
  2. Tiep, P. (2021, May 16). Quyết tâm đẩy lùi dịch COVID-19, bảo vệ sức khỏe nhân dân là trên hết. Báo Công An Nhân Dân. https://cand.com.vn/Su-kien-Binh-luan-thoi-su/Quyet-tam-day-lui-dich-COVID-19-bao-ve-suc-khoe-nhan-dan-la-tren-het-i605680/
  3. Jason, N. (2021, July 21). How The Latest Outbreak Reveals The Darker Side Of Vietnam’s Anti-Coronavirus Strategy. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/07/how-the-latest-outbreak-reveals-the-darker-side-of-vietnams-anti-coronavirus-strategy/
  4. Bang, L. (2021, July 7). Over 1.1 million people unemployed, nearly 13 million others affected by Covid-19 pandemic. Vietnamnet. https://vietnamnet.vn/en/society/over-1-1-million-people-unemployed-nearly-13-million-others-affected-by-covid-19-pandemic-753558.html
  5. VOA News. (2021, July 16). Vietnam Shops for Vaccines in Hopes of Avoiding More Lockdowns. VOA. https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/vietnam-shops-vaccines-hopes-avoiding-more-lockdowns
  6. RFA. (2021, June 7). Lao động tự do chật vật trong đợt dịch COVID-19 thứ tư. Đài Á Châu Tự Do. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/in_depth/freelance-workers-struggle-during-the-fourth-covid-19-outbreak-06072021145713.html
  7. Việt Nam có nên vận dụng “mục tiêu kép” trong lúc này? (2021, May 27). Đài Á Châu Tự Do. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/in_depth/should-vietnam-maintain-dual-goal-now-05272021111728.html
  8. Ibid., [7]
  9. Nhi, T. (2021, July 26). Người đàn ông đi bộ 16 ngày từ Đắk Lắk về Bình Phước để tránh dịch. Zing News. https://zingnews.vn/nguoi-dan-ong-di-bo-16-ngay-tu-dak-lak-ve-binh-phuoc-de-tranh-dich-post1243231.html
  10. Nguyen, C. (2021, August 1). Xót xa cả gia đình gặp nạn trên đường về quê tránh dịch Covid-19. Người Lao Động. https://nld.com.vn/thoi-su/xot-xa-ca-gia-dinh-gap-nan-tren-duong-ve-que-tranh-dich-covid-19-20210801092125848.htm
  11. Ngoc, N. (2021, July 31). Từ 1/8, dân Quảng Ngãi buộc quay lại nơi xuất phát. Tiền Phong. https://tienphong.vn/tu-1-8-dan-quang-ngai-buoc-quay-lai-noi-xuat-phat-post1360999.tpo
  12. Tinh, D. (2021, July 7). TP.HCM: Ổ dịch tại Trại tạm giam Chí Hòa có 81 ca nhiễm Covid-19. Thanh Niên Online. https://thanhnien.vn/thoi-su/tphcm-o-dich-tai-trai-tam-giam-chi-hoa-co-81-ca-nhiem-covid-19-1410289.html
  13. Trại Chí Hòa: Hàng trăm phạm nhân nổi dậy sau khi 81 người nhiễm COVID-19 trong trại. (2021, July 7). Đài Á Châu Tự Do. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/news/vietnamnews/chi_hoa_riot-07072021052110.html
  14. Canh, N. (2021, July 23). Toàn bộ những người ở cơ sở cai nghiện ma tuý Bố Lá dương tính với SARS-CoV-2. Báo Công An Nhân Dân. https://cand.com.vn/y-te/Toan-bo-nhung-nguoi-o-co-so-cai-nghien-ma-tuy-Bo-La-duong-tinh-i621306/
  15. Anh, T. (2021, July 25). TP HCM lập bệnh viện điều trị người tâm thần mắc Covid-19. VnExpress. https://vnexpress.net/tp-hcm-lap-benh-vien-dieu-tri-nguoi-tam-than-mac-covid-19-4330137.html
  16. Son, T. (2021, July 7). COVID-19 xâm nhập trại giam: lo lắng cho an nguy của các tù nhân. Đài Á Châu Tự Do. https://www.rfa.org/vietnamese/in_depth/families-of-prisoners-of-conscience-worry-as-covid-spreads-in-prisons-07072021080636.html
  17. Thanh, A. (2021, July 11). [Infographic] Những nhóm mở rộng được ưu tiên tiêm vắc-xin Covid-19. Người Lao Động. https://nld.com.vn/thoi-su/infographic-nhung-nhom-mo-rong-duoc-uu-tien-tiem-vac-xin-covid-19-20210711011752387.htm
  18. The Vietnamese Magazine. (2021, July 26). Vietnam Briefing: COVID-19 Crisis Deepening While The National Assembly Convened To Elect State Leadership. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/07/vietnam-briefing-covid-19-crisis-deepening-while-the-national-assembly-convened-to-elect-state-leadership/
  19. Minh, N. (2021, July 22). Có bao nhiêu “cháu ngoại” đã trót lọt chen hàng để tiêm vaccine trước? Luật Khoa Tạp Chí. https://www.luatkhoa.org/2021/07/co-bao-nhieu-chau-ngoai-da-trot-lot-chen-hang-de-tiem-vaccine-truoc/
  20. L.Đ.O. (2021, July 19). Người già, người có bệnh nền tại TPHCM được tiêm vaccine tại bệnh viện. Người Lao Động. https://laodong.vn/y-te/nguoi-gia-nguoi-co-benh-nen-tai-tphcm-duoc-tiem-vaccine-tai-benh-vien-932236.ldo
  21. L.Đ.O. (2020, January 28). Đảng của dân tộc, Đảng của giai cấp công nhân. Người Lao Động. https://laodong.vn/thoi-su/dang-cua-dan-toc-dang-cua-giai-cap-cong-nhan-778528.ldo

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