After publicly backing a nationwide public health campaign, three of Vietnam’s top government officials were caught without facemasks at crowded public events over the Lunar New Year holiday, state media revealed in photos that drew online criticism.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health has been telling the people to comply with its “5K” health campaign by following the five Ks: facemasks, disinfectant, distancing, no gatherings, and health declarations, all of which start with the letter K in Vietnamese.
But, ruling Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong, the top leader of the country, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan were all seen Ignoring the five Ks as they celebrated the New Year, called Tet in Vietnamese.
Prime Minister Nguyen even called on the people to observe the five Ks after a Feb. 9 visit to the health ministry, but on February 12, he did not wear a facemask when he traveled to Danang to meet with some district level officials there.
Chairwoman Nguyen on Feb. 11 visited her hometown in Ben Tre province in the country’s south, sending Tet greetings to officials and staff at the province’s border high command. Footage aired on local Dong Khoi TV showed the chairwoman without a facemask and not complying with social distancing orders.
But it was party chief Nguyen who walked maskless down a crowded pedestrian street, greeting observers at Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. He then entered King Ly Thai To’s temple to offer incense to the revered 11th century ruler, violating social distancing protocols.
State media photos show the party chief holding a small child together with Hanoi’s city-level party secretary Vuong Dinh Hue as the two were surrounded by tens of thousands of well-wishers.
Vietnamese resident Do Nam Trung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Tuesday that in avoiding the five Ks themselves, the politicians were showing their hypocrisy.
“It’s an eyesore and totally unacceptable. Mr. Trong and Mr. Phuc both were not wearing facemasks when they met with other people,” said Do.
“The party leaders say the people must wear facemasks and comply with social distancing orders, but they do not follow what they say. As a citizen of Vietnam, how can I believe what they say anymore?” Do said.
Vietnam has been among the most successful countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths among its 95 million people through late July—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.
Since the start of the pandemic, the country has seen three major outbreaks of the disease but has managed to keep its confirmed case totals relatively low—just 2,311 as of Tuesday, with only slightly more than half transmitted locally. Meanwhile, more than 1,500 have recovered from the disease, while 35 have died.
On Tuesday Vietnam confirmed 40 new cases of the disease, with 38 coming out of the northern province of Hai Duong, site of the most recent surge.
Since the beginning of the Hai Duong outbreak in late January, the country has detected 719 cases.
Meanwhile in Ho Chi Minh City, the Center for Disease Control Tuesday reopened nine areas of the city that had been on lockdown. Of the 33 parts of the city that were recently locked down, 12 remain closed off.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.