Citizens’ Opinions of and Experiences with Government Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic in Vietnam: Findings from a phone-based survey
Authors: Mekong Development Research Institute research and UNDP Vietnam
Published: December 2020
Viet Nam has been praised by citizens and the international community for its effectiveness in curbing the outbreak of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic (better known as the COVID-19 pandemic, or COVID-19). Since January 2020, the Government of Viet Nam (GoV) has been implementing important measures to contain COVID-19, with the most aggressive one being the national lockdown in April, 2020, during the first wave of the arrival of the pandemic in the country, and selected lockdowns during the second wave in several central provinces in July and August 2020. To date, there have been very few cases of community transmission in the country. Viet Nam’s economic growth is projected by the General Statistics Office to remain positive at 2.91 percent in 2020, but this is a lowest rate for the country over the past decade.
This study examines how the Vietnamese citizens have perceived and experienced the measures to contain the coronavirus adopted by central and local governments. It is conducted on the assumption that, without citizens’ support for government measures and trust in responsible authorities, the COVID-19 measures would not be effective. Specifically, the study aims to understand the impact of COVID-19 on citizens’ livelihoods, the accessibility and effectiveness of the Government’s relief packages, and public confidence and trust in the government responses to the pandemic. This report reflects findings from a telephone-based sociological survey conducted in September 2020 with a sample size of 1,335 respondents randomly selected from using the 2019 sampled population of the Viet Nam Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI).
The study reveals several important findings, and below are three highlights:
- First, the government responses to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have proved to be swift and effective, according to citizens surveyed. This is evident in the respondents’ high consensus of strong support for government policy and actions to contain the pandemic. More than 96 percent of respondents rated the responses from the National Steering Committee on COVID-19 Prevention and Control as good or very good, while nearly 94 percent had the same rating for their provincial governments’ responses. As many as 81 percent considered the pandemic as a “very severe issue” and all population groups in this survey are concerned about COVID-19 latest developments. Almost every respondent (99 percent) confirmed that they wore masks when going outside, and 93 percent of the respondents washed their hands daily during the peak of the pandemic. The policy on the national lockdown in April was considered as timely by nearly 90 percent of the respondents. More importantly, 89 percent of the respondents agreed to the statement that the government should prioritize saving lives over economic growth.
- Second, despite such government and citizen responses, the COVID-19 pandemic has generated negative impacts on the Vietnamese citizens and the national economy as a whole. The survey findings reveal that 24 percent of the respondents reported job losses because of the pandemic. It is striking but not surprising to know that the service sector (for example, traditional retail and household services) is the most affected by the crisis. Others strongly affected were people that are untrained and working in informal sectors, among the poorest and the near-poor groups. These are also 65 percent of the respondents reporting income loss. On average, respondents experienced an income reduction of around 31 percent. One key finding from this survey is that COVID-19 has caused substantial income loss across poor households and workers in sectors hard hit by the pandemic. The survey findings clearly show that ethnic minority households and households of informal and migrant workers were also disproportionately impacted. Thus COVID-19 impact may result in a surge in transient income poverty that chronically poor and near-poor households living on temporary income sources are currently facing.
- Third, the findings of the survey reaffirm an overall positive feedback from citizens of and experience with the government’s VND 62 trillion support package, which provides cash transfers for poor and near poor households, social protection beneficiaries, people with meritorious service to the country, affected employees and household businesses. Among those respondents that have received support from the aid package (21 percent of 1,335 informants), women, ethnic minorities, the poorest and near-poor groups took reasonable shares. Nearly 90 percent out of the 21 percent of respondents from the receiving households confirmed that they received the correct amount of the aid transfers. Most of respondents agree that the cash transfers were distributed timely (83 percent in agreement) and the procedures of application was simple (85 percent in agreement). However, the survey also revealed about 13 percent did not hear about the aid package. Ethnic minorities, the poorest, the rural population and those with lower education levels had heard less of the relief programme than their other counterparts. Meanwhile, access to timely and transparent information is very important to build and strengthen trust in governments and avoid corruption.
There are several policy implications from this study with the most important one highlighting the importance of good governance in building citizens’ trust in government response and specially in times of crises such as pandemics, natural disasters, among others. First, as mentioned in this report, regression analysis shows that those respondents that had more positive feedback about their provincial performance in governance and public administration through PAPI were more concerned about COVID-19 and tend to follow more closely the COVID-19 prevention measures. They were also more supportive of the government’s response during the pandemic.
Second, the government should also pay particular attention to citizens’ economic well-being as a negative effect on income can reduce their support of government policies. It is very important to provide subsidy and economic support to the most affected people as the regression results show that those respondents that received the cash transfer from the relief package are more likely to support the government’s response to COVID-19.
Third, the analysis shows a variation in access to information on COVID-19 and the 62 trillion VND aid package. Those respondents with low education and low income are less likely to hear about COVID-19 and the aid package. It is important to provide information to less advantaged groups. Finally, in the current context, people tend to submit social distancing at the community and commune level rather than a national lockdown, since a national lockdown can have a negative effect on employment and income.
To conclude, Viet Nam’s successful response to COVID-19 pandemic so far offers important lessons in terms of transparency, accountability, and social cohesion that can inform not only Viet Nam’s responses but other countries in dealing with future crises. For Viet Nam, some of the good governance practices should be applied for addressing other key challenges that citizens have highlighted as top three issues of greatest concerns for citizens over the past three years, including Poverty, Environment and Corruption, according to the 2019 PAPI report.