SEATTLE, Washington — In contrast to many other countries, Vietnam went 71 days without any local transmissions of COVID-19 during the first half of 2020 due to the collective action of states and the Vietnamese community. As such, despite COVID-19, Vietnam is expected to emerge as one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economies. However, many in the country have been economically impacted by COVID-19. Vietnamese entrepreneur, Hoang Tuan Anh, has invented rice ATMs in Vietnam to assist the poor during the pandemic.
Vietnam and COVID-19
Vietnam’s swift response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been lauded by the international community. In June 2020, Vietnam had only 353 recorded cases of COVID-19 and 0 deaths. Unlike more resource-rich countries that have the ability to conduct rigorous testing and contact tracing, Vietnam, a country that shares a border with mainland China, acted fast by closing its borders and shutting down schools since January 2020 to mitigate the spread of the virus. These public health decisions mark Vietnam’s foresight in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis by choosing to implement strict but sensible measures to safeguard the lives of the Vietnamese. Although economic growth is expected to shrink due to the onslaught of the pandemic, the country’s track record of strong economic indicators, such as a prior steady increase in real GDP and the government’s proactive response to dealing with the pandemic, has led to economists’ estimation that economic recovery will rebound in 2021.
Impact of COVID-19 in Vietnam
Lockdown and social distancing protocols in Vietnam have affected many small businesses. Some have been shut down or forced to substantially cut its workforce, resulting in increased unemployment rates. In addition to that, from January to March of 2020, almost 35,000 companies went bankrupt. Although the Vietnamese government introduced a US$10.8 billion stimulus package to aid the economy during COVID-19, many of the poor still struggle to make ends meet. Daily wage workers and street vendors have been especially affected by the lockdown, as the inability to work has caused many to face economic difficulties leading to food insecurity.
Rice ATMs in Vietnam
Vietnamese entrepreneur, Hoang Tuan Anh, has taken the initiative to set up innovative rice ATMs in Vietnam to support the poor during the pandemic since rice is a staple food for the Vietnamese. In several cities in Vietnam, such as Hanoi, Hue and Danang, businessman Hoang Tuan Anh set up automated machines that dispense free rice for poor people that have lost their jobs in Vietnam due to COVID-19. Around 5 million Vietnamese have lost their jobs due to the ongoing lockdown, and as such, rice ATMs in Vietnam have helped to sustain thousands of lives since the beginning of the lockdown in January of 2020.
The rice is stored in silos and then funneled through pipes to the dispenser. When someone presses a button on the rice ATM, a volunteer receives a phone alert and releases 1.5kg of rice to the individual on the other end. The rice ATMs in Vietnam operate 24/7 and are able to be accessed by anyone in the community that needs a supply of rice.
According to Hoang Tuan Anh, the rationale behind inventing rice ATMs in Vietnam is to ensure that the poor experience the reality of second chances. It is hoped that this social initiative will continue to encourage those adversely hit by the virus to continue fighting by providing them with a steady supply of rice amidst economic uncertainty.
– Mariyah Lia