HANOI - Tens of thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, left Ho Chi Minh City over the weekend as the largest metropolis in Vietnam eased a months-long COVID-19 lockdown, triggering fears of labour shortages and more disruption to manufacturing.
The mass exodus comes as the city and its nearby industrial provinces struggle to ensure sufficient workers to help revive the country's economy, which posted a record GDP slump in the third quarter due to COVID-19 curbs.
"We left our home behind for the city in search for better jobs but now we are tired," said Tran Thi Them, 32, as she queued for a compulsory COVID-19 test before leaving.
"We are going home to farm and raise cattle," she said, as she headed to her village in Dong Thap province in the Mekong River Delta with her husband and their 8-month-old baby.
Them lost her job at a garment factory in July, when the city began imposing curbs, and has been confined to her 10-square-metre rented room amid restrictions on leaving the house.
Nearly 90,000 people have left Ho Chi Minh City since Friday, state media reports show, on worries they would get stuck again if there was another wave of infections. The city eased curbs from late Thursday.
"Please don't leave, and stay to work," said vice chairman of the city's People's Committee, Le Hoa Binh.
"The city is facing serious labour shortages."
'DIFFICULT TO RECRUIT'
Such shortages would add to the woes of labour-intensive businesses that are already struggling due to the lockdown.
"We are facing a huge labour shortage," a sub-contractor of Coteccons Construction said from Ho Chi Minh City on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to media.
"We have only 60% of the labour force needed for our projects, and it's difficult to recruit more workers now."
Suppliers for Nike and Adidas suspended operations in Vietnam earlier this year. Nike has cut its fiscal 2022 sales expectations and warned of holiday delays.
Buyers of Apple's new iPhone 13 face longer-than-expected delivery times because of the outbreak in Vietnam, where components for the device's new camera module are assembled.
Fashion brands are also increasingly turning away from low-cost manufacturing hubs in Asia.
Vietnam has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Southeast Asia, with less than 11% of its 98 million people having received at least two doses.
It has reported 808,000 cases and more than 19,700 COVID-19 deaths, with Ho Chi Minh City accounting for nearly half and 77% of them, respectively.
"We are heading home as that is a safer place," Them said.
(Editing by Himani Sarkar) ((firstname.lastname@example.org))