An employee mops the floor of a shoe shop in Hanoi on September 29, 2021. Lockdowns have hit the economy hard. Photo: AFP / Nhac Nguyen

Vietnam’s economy suffered its heaviest contraction on record in the third quarter, officials said Wednesday, after a devastating wave of Covid-19 forced the widespread suspension of manufacturing in the export-reliant country.

Gross domestic product shrunk 6.17% on-year in the July-September period, with the general statistics office (GSO) saying it was the sharpest since the Southeast Asian nation began recording quarterly figures – reportedly in 1986.

Vietnam was last year among the best performing economies in Asia and one of the few in the world to expand after it kept virus numbers low and businesses largely open.

But the latest coronavirus wave, which began in April in its northern industrial parks and rapidly spread south to business hub Ho Chi Minh City, “caused serious impact” to the economy, the GSO said.

State-run news outlet VNExpress said it was the first time Vietnam had recorded negative quarterly growth since 2000.

A third of the country’s 100 million population faced stay-at-home orders for months this summer, with factories closed and supply chains seriously disrupted.

There have been more than 770,000 infections and nearly 19,000 deaths.

“The fourth round of the pandemic … has directly hit many enterprises, breaking the supply chain,” deputy investment minister Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc was quoted as saying on the government’s official website. “Business and production plans were overturned with some partially or fully suspending operations.”

But she added: “The contemporary difficulties and troubles are temporary.

“The country is starting to ease widespread lockdown orders in an effort to ease the problem, but rail and air links across the country remain largely suspended.”

Less than 10% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Despite the latest figures, the World Bank has forecast Vietnam’s economy to grow 4.8% in 2021, while Vietnam has said it is targeting a 6.5% expansion.