Expats hopeful as end of HCMC lockdown is in sight

By Long Nguyen   September 28, 2021 | 04:56 pm PT
Foreigners in Ho Chi Minh City are looking forward to resuming normal activities as authorities end the lockdown this month.

Samantha Price started this week with a smile after seeing barriers on her street in Phu Nhuan District removed after four months.

Watering plants on her balcony and looking down at the streets, the Briton cannot hide her relief, and says she has started to feel a return to normalcy.

"I ordered com tam and banh mi on Monday, and I had never stopped having those things for such a long time like this."

It took her two hours to get her food delivered, "but I felt totally okay".

Knowing the city will remove road barriers and scrap travel permits by September 30, she has made appointments with her hairdresser and dentist.

She is among thousands of expats in Saigon who are looking forward to life after social distancing as the city plans to reopen its economy and "live with the virus".

HCMC is the epicenter of the fourth Covid-19 wave to hit in late April, recording more than 376,000 cases and nearly 14,500 deaths so far. It has mandated social distancing of varying levels of stringency since late May.

An Estonian man receives food from a volunteer in HCMC, August, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

An Estonian man receives food from a volunteer in HCMC, August, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

After months of living behind closed doors, many expats cannot wait to return to work or resume their business.

Jordan Ng, a Singaporean living with his wife, hopes to reopen his restaurant and make deliveries at normal prices as soon as possible.

"The main problem we face as a restaurant owners is that the prices of ingredients are higher than usual. Hopefully we can get back to normal prices and bring our business to normalcy."

The high delivery rates were another reason for him not to reopen his restaurant in the last few weeks.

"I definitely will start my business as soon as possible to cover the losses of the past few months."

Price, who has been teaching English and math in Vietnam for almost four years, hopes the reopening of the economy will be the first step toward normalcy, so that "schools and English centers can be reopened soon."

"I do not expect to return to school in October, but I think reopening is a crucial step showing that the city is ready to live with the virus".

It is not as if people are expecting to meet their friends or gather right soon after the lockdown is lifted: Many just want to resume their daily activities like shopping and venturing out, which have been disrupted.

"Hopefully I will be able to get a haircut, go shopping, restock food, and do some outdoor sports," Bert, a Canadian who does not want to reveal his last name and works as deputy manager at an industrial catering company, says.

He also hopes that when travel restrictions are eased, finding maintenance and repairs services will be easier.

"My house water system broke down and to find a plumber to fix it was a nightmare." He eventually found a plumber who could come to his house in District 2 to fix it.

"I am excited that the city will permit us to get on with daily routines, though the opening will be in stages and perhaps at a slow pace."

Petra Fischer, a German businessman who came to Saigon in May, says he will ride his bicycle and exercise, go shopping and "choose my own food without anyone delivering it."

But first he wants to check on a family of three people who were living under Saigon Bridge to see if they are okay after the month-long lockdown.

"I donated food to them before the lockdown and I don’t know how they are doing."

Water and groceries delivered to Bert from a local supermarket in early September. Photo courtesy of Bert

Water and groceries delivered to Bert from a local supermarket in early September, 2021. Photo courtesy of Bert


As the vaccine rollout continues across Vietnam, locals and foreigners have been rolling up their sleeves to get inoculated.

Many are thankful they have been fully vaccinated and made safer against the raging Delta variant.

Price, Ng, Bert, and Fischer have all checked on the electronic health book application (So suc khoe dien tu), which helps citizens register for vaccination and records their information, and had their inoculation data.

"I am fully vaccinated, have my 'green pass' on the app, and I am happy about it," Bert says.

Price says she feels "lucky" because people around her and most Vietnamese are willing to get vaccinated so that "everyone can be safe from the virus".

A UNICEF survey found 67 percent of Vietnamese keen to get immunized.

"The willingness to get the vaccine bodes extremely well for Vietnam and for the vaccination rollout to get Vietnam open to get business back on track," Rana Flowers of UNICEF said.

HCMC has vaccinated about 6.8 million people, or 98.2 percent of its adult population, with at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose. Around 3 million people, or 42.8 percent, have been fully vaccinated.

While excited about the lifting of the lockdown, people have no plans to stop adopting safety measures since they realize the disease is here to stay.

Fischer, who lived under lockdown in Germany for months, says he is not worried about living with the virus after restrictions are eased.

"I know how to avoid gatherings, and I will not be in situations where there is a high risk of getting infected."

Bert is not anxious either, saying he accepts the fact "that we are living in a world with Covid" and will take his own precautions to protect himself from the virus.

Bert, whose aviation business has been shut down for the last few months, admits the idea of leaving Vietnam crossed his mind before, "but I have scrapped the idea since I believe the stringent lockdown will not be extended."

For Price, "meeting people or going to crowded places" is not on her mind yet.

"When I see barriers are removed and know I can go out for a walk with my dog without being fined next month, I see light at the end of this lockdown tunnel."

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