Vietnam mourns 23,000 COVID-19 deaths in nationwide ceremony

Vietnam held an official ceremony of national mourning on Friday for the more than 23,000 citizens who have died after contracting COVID-19, as some critics said the pandemic may have claimed fewer victims had the government acted differently.

Government officials and relatives of the victims lit candles, burned incense and put lanterns on the water to mourn the dead in a televised event that was organized by the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front, an umbrella group of organizations aligned with the Communist Party, and the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Pagodas and churches in both cities tolled their bells in unison at the conclusion of the ceremony.

Critics said that while it was good the government was acknowledging the victims, Vietnamese government failures likely led to a greater number of deaths than would have otherwise occurred.

“We held a national mourning today, but if we don’t really feel guilty of our failures and mistakes, which caused so many deaths, especially in Saigon, it will mean that we are lying to ourselves,” Tuan Khan, a Ho Chi Minh City musician told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, using the former name of country’s largest city.

Ho Chi Minh successfully weathered three separate waves of the virus but became an epicenter of a fourth outbreak in April 2021. 

After a months-long lockdown, Ho Chi Minh City reopened in early October.

Party Committee Secretary Nguyen Van Nen and Chairman Phan Van Mai at that time admitted mistakes made under their leadership.

Nen said that at the peak of the pandemic, Vietnam had no vaccines, so city officials focused on building field hospitals to isolate the sick. But the field hospitals did not have medicine to treat the disease, so they were little more than holding centers where the infected either recovered or remained, he said.

Tran Bang, a Vietnamese social and political issues expert, told RFA that the officials have not done enough to examine what the government did wrong.

“They didn’t dig into the root cause of their administration’s mistakes. … The fact is those who made the mistakes were chosen by the Communist Party. These people would never have been selected if ordinary people had a real say in elections,” he said.

As of Friday, Vietnam has confirmed 1,035,469 cases of COVID-19 and 23,476 deaths according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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