HANOI: Vietnam deployed soldiers to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on Monday (Aug 23) to help enforce a strict lockdown in the country's biggest urban area and the current epicentre of its worst coronavirus outbreak to date.
After managing to contain COVID-19 for much of last year, Vietnam has recorded more than 348,000 infections and over 8,200 fatalities.
On Monday, Vietnam's health ministry reported 10,266 new COVID-19 infections and 389 deaths.
Most of those cases have been recorded in Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding industrial provinces, where the Delta variant of the virus has sent numbers soaring since late April.
Vietnam implemented movement restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City in early July, but announced its harshest curbs yet last week, as infections have continued to surge. Authorities have said the enforcement of recent curbs had not been sufficiently strict.
The government said on Friday a tighter lockdown would begin on Monday, prohibiting people from leaving their homes, even for food, and said the military would step in to help.
The announcement, which was later amended so that people in some areas could still shop for food but then subsequently reverted to a total ban, triggered confusion and panic-buying at supermarkets in the city over the weekend.
Witnesses said soldiers were delivering food to residents of the city on Monday and images broadcast by state media showed armed soldiers manning checkpoints and checking documents.
Ho Chi Minh City has recorded a total of 176,000 COVID-19 infections and 6,670 deaths, accounting for half of Vietnam's overall cases and 80 per cent of fatalities, according to the health ministry.
Vietnam has over recent weeks sent 14,600 additional doctors and nurses to the city and its neighbouring provinces to support its overwhelmed medical system, the ministry said.
Patients with mild or no symptoms have been told to self isolate at home.
People in the city's Phu Nhuan and Go Vap districts told Reuters they had received packages of rice, meat, fish and vegetables from the military.
The government announced on Friday it would send 130,000 tonnes of rice from state stockpiles to Ho Chi Minh City and 23 other cities and provinces.
Just 1.8 per cent of Vietnam's 98 million people have been fully vaccinated - one of the lowest rates in the region.