Vietnam has taken further concrete steps to combat the COVID-19 crisis as the fight enters a new stage. Some uncertainty remains however as to how the steps are intended to be implemented in practice.
On 31 March 2020, the Prime Minister of Vietnam issued Directive No. 16/CT-TTg on the Implementation of Immediate Measures for the Prevention of the COVID-19 pandemic (“Directive 16“). Primarily, Directive 16 sets forth strict social distancing on a nationwide basis for 15 days starting 1 April 2020.
Specifically, the mandates set out in the Directive include:
- Everyone is required to stay at home, except for essential trips such as buying food, medicine, for emergency circumstances, going to work at factories and businesses that do not close or suspend their operations;
- A minimum distance of two meters is required for meetings;
- Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited in all public places, except for workplaces, schools, and hospitals;
- Factories and workshops are required to ensure a safe distance among employees, facemasks must be worn, and workplaces must be sterilized according to regulations;
- All State agencies are required to implement work-from-home policy for their staff members, except for special needs;
- Public transportation services will be suspended and travel from region to region will be minimized, except for essential goods and services; and
- Border crossings between Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos will be temporarily closed from 1 April 2020. Immigration will be tightly controlled at all international border crossings; all those entering from Cambodia and Laos will be quarantined in central facilities for 14 days.
Directive 16 implies, without actually stating expressly, that operation of non-essential businesses must be suspended. However, Mr. Mai Tien Dung, Minister and Chairman of the Government Office, later clarified in an interview that the new social distancing rules are not a lockdown as in other affected countries. The message appears to be that management of businesses may make their own decisions as to whether to remain open or not. At the same time, they must be responsible for ensuring their employee's health and safety if they choose to continue to operate. In fact, this is the status quo as employers must always bear such responsibility under workplace legislation including the Law on Occupational Hygiene and Safety. Employees who consider themselves at risk by being at the workplace have a right to refuse to work and must be paid for any ensuing absence.
Anecdotally, we have heard of police officials visiting businesses and asking them to close. Some have interpreted this as mandatory, others are being given a less clear message.
Bottom line, at the present time there are differences around the country in how Directive 16 and companies can expect local officials to provide guidance on what it means in practice for them. For example, to implement the Prime Minister’s Directive, the Hanoi City People’s Committee issued Directive 05 / CT-UBND. That Directive states that factories, production facilities, and construction sites must facilitate for officials, employees and workers to work at home (how this is intended to work for construction sites is anyone's guess).
It goes on to say that the following factories and enterprises may continue to operate:
- Those producing and trading in essential goods such as: processing food, fruits, pharmaceuticals, medicines, medical supplies and equipment in service of epidemic prevention and combat, national security and defense;
- Electricity, water and sanitation services;
- Farms breeding cattle, poultry, aquaculture;
- Clean water supply plants;
- Garment factories producing medical masks;
- Plant producing bottled water, juice; and
- Factories needing to produce orders to be paid pursuant to contracts signed before April 15, 2020.
The Hanoi PC has also identified a rather wide list of businesses that are allowed to stay open including supermarkets, banks, tourist accommodation, shopping malls, television stations, healthcare services, grocery stores, funeral homes among others.
Business owners in other locations should look out for further direction from their provincial authorities as to how Directive 16 will be applied in practice. In all cases, businesses should be pro-actively developing policies, if not already , to prepare for the prospect of heavier-handed lockdowns including, where feasible, clear work from home protocols.
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