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Migrant workers hesitate to visit home amid confusing rules, infection fears

By Quynh Nguyen   November 2, 2021 | 05:30 pm PT
Varying pandemic prevention rules in different places and fear of taking the coronavirus home have made many people think twice before visiting their hometown.

During her eight years of living in Hanoi, Minh Ngoc always visited her home in Hai Phong every six months or less.

"Before Oct. 19, Hai Phong identified the whole of Hanoi’s Cau Giay District as a low-risk area, but now Dich Vong Hau Ward where I live has become a moderate-risk area," the 27-year-old says with a sigh.

Though fully vaccinated, living in a moderate-risk area means she must self-monitor her health for seven days if she returns to Hai Phong. She wants to visit her parents for the weekend but is confused by the regulations.

She contacted health authorities in her hometown, but they said the rules depend on the pandemic situation.

"Too complicated," Ngoc says.

People scan QR codes to make health declaration before entering northern Quang Ninh Pronvince, Oct. 16, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong

People scan QR codes to make health declaration before entering northern Quang Ninh Province, Oct. 16, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong

A resolution on adapting to Covid-19 issued earlier this month categorized areas into four risk levels, with 1 being lowest.

The criteria are determined by the Ministry of Health based on factors like community transmission, vaccination and Covid-19 treatment.

In Hai Phong, people who return before midnight on a day have to follow rules based on the risk level of that day.

The risk is freshly assessed after midnight.

But even when provinces and cities have allowed interprovincial transportation to resume, people are hesitant about visiting their hometown.

A quick survey of such people by VnExpress found their worries are related to unclear regulations on quarantine, transport difficulties, expensive bus tickets, fear of not being able to return to their place of work, fear of infection, and stigma related to returning to a pandemic-hit area.

Tien Hung, 27, who lives in Hanoi’s Nam Tu Liem District, wanted to return to the central Thanh Hoa Province and tried to find a car.

There are few buses, and the main mode of transport is private car. The price of a seat pre-Covid was VND200,000 ($8.82), but is now up to VND500,000, depending on the pick-up and drop off points.

He could not afford to spend a million dong just to return home for a weekend.

The confusing quarantine rules also rattled Hung.

Some Thanh Hoa people living in Hanoi said those coming from moderate-risk areas in Hanoi do not have to quarantine at home, take a quick test or present documents to prove their current place of residence. But others said they must self-monitor their health or isolate themselves for seven days even if they have had two Covid shots.

Hung says: "There is too much information and I do not know whom to believe. People like me do not dare to take the risks to visit home unless there are urgent matters."

Le Van Phuong, chairman of the People's Committee of Hoang Quy Commune in Thanh Hoa's Hoang Hoa District, his native village, says: "Before returning, people should ask for a certificate from the ward where they live to prove that it is a safe area, and [also] bring their vaccination certificates".

After they make health declarations, the commune would consider the pandemic situation at their place of departure to take measures, he said.

Le Thuy, 26, of Hau Loc District in Thanh Hoa Province, has also been confused by the quarantine regulations. She found out that fully vaccinated people living in moderate-risk areas need to self-isolate if their second shot were taken less than 14 days prior.

Their house will have to put on a sign saying "family has a member returning from pandemic area."

But in Hanoi and many other places, people like Thuy only have to self-monitor their health at home for 14 days.

"I need a specific guide that applies to all provinces so that I can return to my hometown with peace of mind," she says.

A police man control the flow of people entering central Nghe An Province. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai

A police man controls the flow of people entering central Nghe An Province. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Hai

Many people believe that authorities in some places are overreacting in updating pandemic prevention guidelines, causing difficulties for those who want to return to their hometown.

"We are forced to do so (updating pandemic prevention guidelines) when the number of infections in other provinces and cities fluctuates every hour," Le Khac Nam, vice chairman of the Hai Phong People's Committee, says.

The daily updates help the public and authorities closely monitor and take appropriate measures, he added.

Between Oct. 7 and 25 some 381,000 people moved from southern provinces and cities to their hometowns, and 6,200 of them tested positive, according to the health ministry.

Many localities have reported difficulties in applying measures to manage people returning from high-risk communes and wards in low-risk provinces. Many vaccinated people are still infected, and so self-isolation could still pose a risk to communities.

"If the regulations on pandemic prevention are not strictly complied with and the situation gets out of control, it will be very dangerous," Nam warns.

Many people are also hesitating to return simply because they worry they might carry the virus home.

Nguyen Tam, 34, of Nghe An Province lives and works in Dong Nai Province, which used to be a high-risk area. Fearful she might take the disease to the countryside where many people have not been vaccinated, Tam decided to stay.

"The number of positive cases among returnees from the south is increasing," she says.

As of Oct. 27 nearly 24,000 people returned to their hometowns in Nghe An from southern provinces and 308 tested positive.

Thuy hopes that soon pandemic prevention measures will be synchronized among provinces so that people can travel without confusion.

Ngoc also hopes to have clear regulations soon as she still has no idea if she can leave her hometown before finishing the seven-day quarantine at home.

"Many people say it is okay because no one is monitoring us. But if I come into contact with a Covid patient and spread the disease to others, will I be violating the regulations?"

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