Vietnam has scrapped its “zero-COVID” policy as it prepares to ease lockdowns and reopen more segments of its economy, including its casino industry.
The decision, announced by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on Saturday, will pave the way for the resumption of inbound tourism, provided visitors have been double-vaccinated.
“Fighting the pandemic is not just setting up physical barriers and restrictions,” Pham said Saturday, noting there had been a drop in infections.
Until late April, Vietnam had one of the best coronavirus containment records in the world, with just 35 deaths. But a subsequent surge in cases of the highly contagious Delta variant made the government realize it must live with the virus.
Since April, it has recorded more than 18,400 fatalities and over 750,000 cases in total.
Tourism makes up 10 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, but its borders have been closed to foreigners since March 22, 2020.
Pre-pandemic, its shiny new casinos were thriving, thanks to close diplomatic relations and economic ties to China in recent years. Vietnam legalized casino gaming in 2017, but bars its own citizens from playing at the new venues, with one exception.
Last week, the unfortunately named Corona Resort & Casino on Vietnam’s southern resort island of Phu Quoc received the all-clear to open from the central government.
Under normal circumstances, Vietnamese nationals are permitted to gamble at the Corona, provided they can provide proof they earned roughly US$430 per month over the preceding three months. The average monthly wage in the country is around USD$150.
But the casino resort has been closed since July 19 because of the rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases over the summer.
Phu Quoc itself is scheduled to reopen to vaccinated foreign tourists in phases from October, initially targeting 2,000 to 3,000 visitors per month, according to authorities.
The Corona is part of a three-year pilot program launched by the Vietnamese government that could ultimately lead to it allowing locals to gamble in casinos across the country.
Vietnam has sped up its own vaccination program in recent weeks. But it still lags behind many other countries in the region. As of Monday, 8.3 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to official data. That’s just 8.6 percent of the country’s total population.
Harsh lockdowns in the authoritarian one-party socialist republic have damaged its manufacturing-led economy, impacting the shares of international companies that rely on cheap Vietnamese labor, notably Nike.
The sports clothing giant said last week that 80 percent of its footwear factories and 50 percent of its clothing factories in southern Vietnam remained closed.
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