On 31 March 2020, the Prime Minister issued Directive No. 16/CT-TTg (Directive 16) to enforce social distancing throughout Vietnam for 15 days from 1 April 2020. The directive responds to the heightened alert regarding the COVID-19 pandemic situation in Vietnam. This Update addresses the salient provisions of Directive 16 and provides guidance on key issues, including whether businesses can remain opened, the status of the banking system's operations, and what government services remain available.
Some of the highlights of Directive No. 16 are:
- The general public is ordered to practice social distancing. People have been ordered to stay at home unless they have essential business to attend to, such as grocery and drug shopping, emergency medical services, or going to work at business establishments that are not closed. When people have to go out, they should keep a distance of at least two metres between them. Meetings or gatherings of more than two people in public places are not allowed.
- Government officials are ordered to work from home and not come into the office, other than for essential tasks. Although the directive provides some examples, it does not clearly define what amounts to “essential” tasks and different government authorities may have their own interpretations (please see our discussion below), as is the case across global jurisdictions that have implemented similar stay-at-home directives
- Public transportation services are discontinued and travel between provinces for individuals (including domestic air travel) is restricted to essential movement (which Directive 16 does not define, but is understood to include movement such as returning home from a person's place of employment).
General Private Businesses May Continue to Operate: Not a Lockdown
Subsequent to the issuance of Directive 16, the Office of the Government confirmed that this is not a lockdown, although the directive leaves open the possibility of applying a lockdown if the situation worsens.
The government also clarified that the business sector can still operate as usual and business owners have the discretion to decide whether their employees may work from home. Businesses must provide adequate protection to their employees if they are required to return to work. The government ordered many retail businesses, mostly in the leisure and entertainment sector, such as restaurants (for dine-in service as take-out service is still available), cinemas, gyms, cosmetic establishments and bars to shut down a week ago.
Stock Exchanges and Banks Mandated to Remain Operational
The government has stipulated critical services ‒ such as stock exchanges and the depository system ‒ must remain operational as directed by the State Securities Commission under its notice No. 131/TB-UBCK.
In addition, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) has directed that credit institutions must operate normally and ensure that their services, especially internet banking and ATM services, are not interrupted while minimising the number of staff working at the office.
The discontinuation and service reduction of public transport, such as public buses), taxi services, and ride-hailing applications within cities and flights for out-of-town travel), pursuant to decisions of local Peoples' Committees and the Ministry of Transportation, may impact travel to. Directive 16 mandates that taxi and ride-hailing applications may not pick-up customers (though food delivery services, provided through these applications are still available, are allowed ) and domestic flight services are severely limited.
Government Agencies Open but Access is Likely to Be More Limited
Although most government agencies will remain operational, one should expect more limited access to government services given many of public-sector employees are now working from home.
In response to Directive 16, the Governor of the SBV has issued an urgent telegram ordering all units to have officials work from home while maintaining sufficient staff at the office to ensure continuity of normal operations. In contrast, the National Registration Agency for Secured Transactions (NRAST) has advised that it will not accept direct submissions for security registration filings (online submission is available for regular customers only) and contacting the NRAST via hotline would be limited for the time being. The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Planning and Investment also announced that it would stop receiving direct paper submissions and receive electronic submissions instead ‒ this approach has also been recommended by all other governmental agencies.
In light of the limited access to the government and its agencies, businesses need to check with the respective agency as to the services that are still available during this period.