Vietnam's coronavirus epicenter Ho Chi Minh City, which has kept residents confined at home under lockdown, is considering reopening economic activity from September 15, shifting from a "zero COVID-19" strategy to a policy of living with the virus.
The city of 9 million people is targeting a phased reopening and the full vaccination of its citizens by the end of this year, according to the draft seen by Reuters, which has yet to be endorsed.
Ho Chi Minh City last month deployed troops to enforce its lockdown and prohibited residents from leaving their homes to slow a spiraling rate of deaths. Just 3% of Vietnam's 98 million population has been fully vaccinated.
Vietnam's biggest city, a business hub flanked by industrialized provinces, aims to "promote economic recovery ... and move towards living with COVID-19," the draft proposal said.
The reopening would be gradual, and low-interest loans and tax cuts would be offered to affected firms, it said.
Ho Chi Minh City alone has recorded 241,110 coronavirus infections and 9,974 deaths, representing half of the country's cases and 80% of its fatalities.
The vast majority of those have come in recent months, ending hopes that Vietnam could continue to achieve success it showed in 2020, when aggressive contact tracing and quaratining led to one of the world's best COVID-19 containment records.
The ministry of health on Friday reported 14,922 coronavirus infections, a record daily increase, raising its caseload to 501,649 with 12,476 deaths.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on Wednesday warned Vietnam could be facing a lengthy coronavirus battle and cannot rely on lockdown and quarantines indefinitely.
During a visit to a smartphone factory of Samsung Electronics in the northern province of Thai Nguyen on Friday, Chinh urged the company to help Vietnam procure vaccines from South Korea and to maintain its long-term investment in Vietnam.
Foreign firms operating in the country, including Samsung "can put their trust in Vietnam's efforts in tackling the pandemic," Chinh said.
The health ministry on Friday called on recovered COVID-19 patients to help the city battle the epidemic.
In capital Hanoi, where dozens of new cases per day have been recorded in recent weeks, authorities will extend strict lockdown in most parts of the city beyond September 6 and will conduct 1 million tests from now through the end of Sunday.