Prioritize disease prevention before economy

SGI

Saigon Investment spoke with Dr. Nguyen Dinh Cung, a member of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Group, and a former Director of the Central Institute for Economic Management, for his opinion on the two main burdens facing the Government currently, that of urgent and stringent disease prevention measures and the serious effort to minimize loss to the national economy.

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (center) listened to the leaders of the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases reporting on the preparation and prevention of Covid-19. Photo: DINH NAM

Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (center) listened to the leaders of the Central Hospital for Tropical Diseases reporting on the preparation and prevention of Covid-19. Photo: DINH NAM

Of the two factors, Dr. Cung believes strongly that while natural factors will decide the economy, the government must remain fully focused on health and disease prevention as its topmost priority.

JOURNALIST: - Sir, from a citizen's point of view, how do you feel these days with the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to spread?

Dr. NGUYEN DINH CUNG: - It is true that our country's struggle to prevent and fight this pandemic is proving a tough battle with the spread of the virus entering new terrains and a more difficult phase. However, I think the Government is doing a very good job by telling the people what to do in these circumstances and authorities making adequate preparations.

I have no medical expertise, but I find that the Steering Committee for Disease Prevention and Control and the Ministry of Health are regularly assessing the situation and making flexible and timely adjustments such as for cases needing isolation, and preparing for all forms of isolation for example. The Ministry of Health has just released a new guide on 11 March of which I am very supportive.

At this time, I think that we should be more focused on solutions to self-isolate in our homes though I know there are a few people who feel that quarantine is being forced and they are not really being sensible. To ensure the safety of our community, we have to accept some restrictions like on travel and daily lifestyle habits.

- Sir, I want to ask you a delicate question which is closely related to national resources. It is about the cost of treatment and isolation of infected patients. There are concerns that in the context of economic difficulties and limited budget revenue, should we apply a co-payment mechanism for at least foreign patients ?

- As far as I know, patients infected with Covid-19 are provided with free medical examination and treatment, in compliance with the Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases. The law stipulates that "people infected with Group A diseases are entitled to free medical examination and treatment", and according to the decision of the Prime Minister, Covid-19 is a Group A infectious disease. This law applies to agencies, organizations, domestic and foreign individuals in Vietnam.

Therefore, unless the National Assembly amends the law, or Covid-19 pandemic is removed from the list of infectious diseases under Group A, it is now required that we provide free medical examination and treatment, whether the person is a Vietnamese or a foreigner. But the fact is that  there are foreigners who entered our country for personal reasons, and they have never paid taxes or contributed anything to Vietnam, while the cost of examination, treatment, isolation is quite huge. This figure could increase by the day, while our resources are limited.

Therefore, in my opinion, those foreigners who have been infected, should contribute towards the prevention of this pandemic. Singapore is a rich country and can afford to give free of charge testing and treatment to its people, so foreigners who are ill must pay for all the treatment. The US government has agreed to allow health insurance companies to pay 100% of the testing and treatment fees for those infected with Covid-19.

- Sir, although it is too early to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the socio-economic situation, the negative effects are clearly huge, and the Prime Minister has issued a number of directives to reduce the impact of this pandemic. Do you have any comments on the solutions that have been issued and do you have any further recommendations?

- According to the Prime Minister's directive, the topmost priority at this time is still disease prevention. However, many solutions to support the economy have also been issued. Many commercial banks have allowed Covid-19 affected businesses to postpone, delay debt repayments, or reset lending rates. This is a move to support each other in times of difficulty. Besides, as far as I know, the Ministry of Finance has drafted a decree on deferment, extension of tax payment, land rent payment in order to reduce cash flow tensions and save costs for businesses under the Prime Minister's Directive. Hopefully this Decree will be issued soon.

I think the policy measures have been designed with the goal of supporting both the supply and demand sides of the economy, but the initial focus should be on the supply side, which is the most heavily affected sector. Simply because in the context of the movement of people and circulation of goods this is limited, stimulating demand will not be effective. Stimulation measures will be effective when the pandemic settles, and production and business and life returns to normal.

In order to support the economy, appropriate steps need to be taken. First to support the hardest-hit industries by combining tax reduction or extension of tax payment period, credit support and security measures. Then it  is to deploy some stimulus solutions, which pay special attention to improve the efficiency of public investment projects and programs. The attitude and the way of working of the ministries, branches and each cadre in the apparatus must change according to the motto of actively clearing bottlenecks and finding ways to remove them; executive officers must actively deal with work instead of waiting for the "right process". Finally, the third step must be to focus on structural reforms to reduce the vulnerability of similar shocks.

- Sir, many business owners said that this pandemic has put a halt to their businesses, and they have to let workers go on rotating leave to ease their lives which has suddenly become extremely difficult. Is there any quick and practical solution to support these circumstances?

- One of the things that can be done immediately is to exempt social insurance for businesses during the time when they have to stop doing business, creating conditions for them to return to operation as soon as possible. Perhaps at the next meeting, the National Assembly should issue a resolution on corporate income tax reduction. Economic support measures should continue even after the pandemic is over.

- Thank you very much.

Translated by Khoa Anh

Anh Thu

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