HANOI — Vietnam has used travel bans aggressively to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, yet it has made exceptions for employees of Samsung Electronics, reflecting the South Korean company’s importance to the local economy.
Vietnam barred all travelers from China on Feb. 1. On Feb. 29, it began requiring those coming in from South Korea to undergo a two-week quarantine. Foreigners were banned from entering the country in mid-March, with possible exceptions for certain categories such as highly skilled workers, and internal travel has been restricted as well.
But Samsung lobbied hard for Vietnam to admit engineers to expand capacity at facilities producing organic light-emitting diode panels. The government ultimately decided to let in about 200 Samsung employees from late last month, waiving the quarantine requirement.
Samsung is among the top foreign-operated companies in Vietnam, generating a quarter of the country’s exports. Two plants in northern Vietnam handle more than half the company’s global smartphone output.
But the government’s decision came even as the virus continued to spread around the South Korean city of Daegu. On April 13, a worker at a Samsung plant in the Vietnamese province of Bac Ninh tested positive for the coronavirus.
Even though the employee was found to have exposed more than 1,000 people to the disease, only about 40 were directed to self-isolate.
“That would never happen with any other company,” said the head of a major Japanese manufacturer operating in Vietnam.
Some estimates show Vietnam’s economic growth, which has held steady at around 7%, turning negative this year amid the pandemic. The Samsung exemptions illustrate Hanoi’s struggles to balance public health with economic health.