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As Covid restrictions go, Vietnamese resume social drinking

By Dang Khoa, Long Nguyen   November 11, 2021 | 05:54 pm PT
As Covid-19 restrictions ease across the country, after-work dinners and drinking are back with a vengeance, and social distancing rules are being ignored.

On a Monday evening this month, restaurants in HCMC’s District 8 were filled with customers. Above the loud music and noise, in some eateries the sounds of people cheering could be heard as they sat and drank alcohol.

There were signs hanging on the walls saying "no alcoholic beverages served," but right beneath, all over the ground, were cans and bottles of beer.

"The first thing I wanted to do after lockdown was eat out and drink with friends and colleagues," Le Hoang of District 3, one of the revelers that evening, said.

He was fully vaccinated and wanted some fun after being cooped up for over four months, he said, adding drinking at home "doesn't have the same feeling."

At a barbecue restaurant in District 1, a group of eight customers was drinking beers to belatedly celebrate the birthday of two coworkers and welcome a new team member.

"This is time for bonding, and some beer does not hurt anyone or help spread the virus," one of them said.

Eating and drinking with colleagues after work has always been a part of Vietnamese office culture. With many localities allowing businesses to reopen after the months-long lockdown, restaurants have started selling alcohol again, attracting many people.

A restaurant on HCMCs Cao Thang Street is packed, Nov. 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

A restaurant on HCMC's Cao Thang Street is packed, Nov. 10, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

A restaurant owner in Saigon’s Thu Duc City said there had been an "unexpected increase" in the number of bookings until the next weekend.

"When the city allowed us to sell alcohol, a flood of new bookings came right away."

HCMC has mandated that eateries should have only 50 percent of their normal covers, close at 9 p.m. and not serve alcoholic beverages (except in District 7 and Thu Duc City), but many restaurants ignore these conditions.

"Now people are allowed to sit in restaurants after work, and people do not come here to have coke or mineral water with BBQ," the owner of a restaurant on District 1’s Nguyen Van Thu Street said.

Statistics show that Vietnamese are big consumers of alcohol.

Though incomes fell because of the pandemic, a survey found Vietnamese consumed more beer and alcohol in 2020.

Their consumption rose to 1.3 liters per month from 0.9 liters in 2018.

Drinking is an opportunity for colleagues to strengthen their relationships as they swap stories about work and life.

"We got some new staff during the recent lockdown, and this dinner is time for them to know more about us and vice versa," Nguyen Huynh Minh Huy, an engineer working in Hanoi's Long Bien District, said while drinking beer with co-workers at a hot pot restaurant.

Restaurants and other food and beverage establishments in the capital city (except businesses that sell alcohol and beer) have ben allowed to offer on-site dining at half of their maximum capacity since mid-October.

A restaurant on HCMCs Le Quang Dinh Street. Feb. 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van

A restaurant on HCMC's Le Quang Dinh Street., Feb. 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van

To drink or not to drink

But while senior workers are thrilled they can again drink with colleagues, some younger ones, wanting to spend time on other activities after work, are less so.

The lockdowns have made many people reappraise their approach to social drinking after they started spending more time with their families or picking up side jobs.

"[Now] I really like spending my evenings working out or having dinner with my family instead of drinking for hours; that is a waste of time," Manh Tung, 30, an accountant, said.

"I'm worried drinking with colleagues after office hours will interfere with my new health routine".

Some others, still worried about the pandemic, said it is too early to resume drinking with colleagues and friends.

"When people are drunk, they ignore all social distancing rules," Huy said, pointing out that many of his senior colleagues refuse to come for dinner though they are fully vaccinated.

A recent survey by the city health department found that 86 percent of new patients in town have had at least one shot of a vaccine.

The city has had more than 440,000 patients since April, when the latest wave began. The pandemic is gradually coming under control, but around 1,000 people still contract the disease every day.

"I think we live in a new normal, so people will be careful and avoid unhygienic practices like sharing glasses or utensils in public," Huy added.

In HCMC, the traffic police, aware that many people have started drinking in restaurants, have been fining a lot of drunk drivers.

Between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1 alone nearly 200 people were fined in Thu Duc City and District 7.

"I had only two bottles of beer and I can control myself; I did not drink that much," one offender lamented.

In the last few days, with the pandemic situation remaining uncertain, authorities have again been warning people to be vigilant.

Pham Duc Hai, deputy head of the Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control, said: "The numbers of new cases, hospitalization rates and deaths from Covid-19 are increasing again."

City health authorities have warned about the risk of another outbreak if people ignore preventive measures.

Besides, people from other provinces are returning to the city, and if they have not been vaccinated, the risk of new cases and hospitalization will increase.

But at least for the moment, they seem to be falling on deaf ears.

"Drinking is fun, helps us relax after a long day of work amid this tiring pandemic," Hoang said before raising a toast with his colleagues.

Near them, dozens of other drinkers are eating and chatting amid the sounds of loud music and people cheering.

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