Covid travel advisory by provinces confuses people planning to head home for Tet

By Dang Khoa, Quynh NguyenJanuary 8, 2022 | 10:48 pm PT
Covid travel advisory by provinces confuses people planning to head home for Tet
A student of Hanoi’s University of Finance - Business Administration lifts her suitcase at the Giap Bat Station as she heads home for Tet, January 30, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Tung Dinh
Many people are puzzled by provinces’ Covid-19 travel advisory telling them not to visit their hometown for Tet considering the government wants Vietnam to “live with” the disease.

After reading a letter from officials in Thanh Hoa Town in the eponymous central province urging people not to return for Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) unless necessary, Mai Phuong called her mother back home and hesitantly asked, "Should I stay back or come?"

The 27-year-old, who lives in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District, has been looking forward to being reunited with her parents during Tet after not visiting her hometown for nearly a year as a precaution.

She finds the advisory telling people not to visit home during the country’s most important holidays though Vietnam has switched strategies to safely live with Covid "very confusing".

"It is easy for outsiders to say people living far away from their hometowns should wait for one long year to meet their family".

Traditionally duringTet, the country’s biggest and most important celebration, Vietnamese travel in their millions to their hometowns – with many living abroad too making their way back – to be with their families.

Covid travel advisories are a hot topic these days among people who are about to head home for the nine-day break for the Lunar New Year starting Jan. 29.

Many of them, longing to meet their family back home, are now in a dilemma.

"I feel like I am being discriminated against by my own hometown," Phuong said, adding she still does not know whether to go though she has already bought the train tickets.

Trinh Xuan Quynh too wants to visit Thanh Hoa Town to offer incense at his late father's altar after a whole year of not going back home.

But 34-year-old delivery driver decided to stay back in Hanoi after his mother repeatedly told him not to come, explaining it is best to abide by local officials' guidelines and not risk becoming alienated by the whole town.

"I am. But seeing the rising number of infections in Hanoi lately, I don't want people to badmouth my family if I accidently infect the village".

But many other people are still waiting to make a decision about visiting home.

Le Thanh Trung, 28, of HCMC’s Binh Tan District said: "Tet is for family reunions, and I do not think it is necessary for my hometown to advise people not to come home".

He plans to buy a train ticket home a week before Tet "if the pandemic is contained and people in my hometown Thanh Hoa feel okay to welcome me".

He has not visited home for two years.


Though more than 70.5 million of the country’s 96 million people are fully vaccinated, many localities fear that family gatherings and visiting relatives’ and friends’ houses could cause Covid to resurge.

Several other localities, including the northern Thai Nguyen Province and the central Ha Tinh Province, have also advised people not to return for Tet.

Nguyen Viet Hung, head of the Thanh Hoa Town Fatherland Front Committee, said Wednesday the letter is a recommendation not a travel ban.

"The city does not plan to and cannot ban people from traveling. The recommendation is for people to protect their own health and their loved ones’ and the community’s".

Last month Vinh Phuc and Quang Nam provinces had also advised local families to encourage their loved ones to limit traveling home for the Lunar New Year.

Health authorities announced 16,513 Covid-19 cases Saturday in 62 cities and provinces, pushing the total infection tally in the fourth wave so far to 1,860,134.

Hanoi topped the country's infection tally with 2,791 cases, followed by Khanh Hoa with 798 and Hai Phong with 748.

The advisories caused immediate controversy and confusion, with many pointing out that any travel restriction goes against the government’s stated policy of adapting to life with Covid.

Dr Nguyen Viet Hung, vice chairman of the Hanoi Association for Infection Control, has said that urging people not to visit home for Tet is not an effective measure against the epidemic.

"Traveling between provinces cannot cause an outbreak, if people strictly follow safety regulations.

"We are not afraid of the epidemic spreading from one province to another because every province now has it".

In Saigon, Trung has told himself that in the worst case, if people in his hometown remain afraid of Covid and the province keeps advising people not to go home, he will have his Tet in Saigon.

"I am worried that people may stigmatize me," he admitted.

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