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The Lotte building and its department store tower over billboard photos of Ho Chi Minh and communist symbols in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital.
The Lotte building and its department store tower over billboard photos of Ho Chi Minh and communist symbols in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. (Erik Slavin/Stars and Stripes)

Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh ordered COVID-19 tests for all of Ho Chi Minh City after the government dispatched the military to dispense food in the nation's commercial hub amid new drastic measures to contain a worsening outbreak.

Uncertainty swept across the city of almost 10 million through the weekend, triggered by conflicting information from authorities about food shopping restrictions. Local media depicted crowds of residents descending on food markets and standing in lines for hours. The curbs on shopping are set to be in place starting Monday until Sept. 6.

Officials estimate the city needs to provide 11,000 tons of goods to residents daily and the government is capable of doing that, an unnamed official from the city's trade department was cited as saying by Tuoi Tre. The military will work with volunteers, veterans and some unions to deliver food to households, Vo Minh Luong, deputy minister of national defense, said in a meeting on Friday with city officials. His comments were made available on a government website, which didn't give details on the scale of the distribution in the city.

The Southeast Asian country is battling its worst coronavirus wave with a record 11,299 domestic new virus cases reported Saturday. Ho Chi Minh City is the nation's epicenter with more than 171,000 reported domestic patients out of the country's 332,626 local cases since April 27, the start of latest national outbreak. The city has recorded 80% of the country's COVID-19 deaths.

Authorities are increasingly concerned that months of tough anti-virus measures have yet to contain the spread of COVID-19, and aim to further reduce movements by Ho Chi Minh City residents. They have already been restricted from leaving home and can do so for only essential reasons, such as getting food, seeking medical treatment or going to work-sites approved by the government.

The government aims to contain the virus to pockets in Ho Chi Minh City by Sept. 15, according to its website.

Less than 2% of the nation of 98 million people have been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 19, according to a statement posted on the website of the health ministry's publication Suc Khoe Doi Song.

Stricter movement restrictions are also being ordered in neighboring provinces including Dong Nai and Binh Duong, according to a statement on the government's website. That region is dotted with industrial parks — home to suppliers of global brands.

Hundreds of police officers from different parts of the country are being sent to Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Duong province to assist with enforcement of the restrictions, according to the government statement. Likewise, thousands of doctors and other medical professionals have been arriving in the southern region to assist with the growing number of patients.

The army will oversee the enforcement of stay-at-home orders that were extended through Sept. 15 in Ho Chi Minh City and assist the city to ensure its food supply for the next 15 days, according to the government posting. Local officials must detail the number of stores in their areas and calculate the needs of households, the notice said.

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