People struggle to care for kids as offices reopen but schools don’t

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenOctober 21, 2021 | 04:54 pm PT
With schools yet to reopen in HCMC, people cannot find the nannies they need for their children or are afraid they might bring Covid home.

One Monday morning, when Daniel Evans was in a meeting in his office in downtown Saigon, his 13-year-old son called and screamed on the phone: "The Internet is broken, I cannot attend online classes".

The Briton tried calling his wife, who was also at work in an international school in District 2, but there was no answer.

He had to end the meeting early and traveled 5 km to his home to help his son with the lessons.

"I do not have a part-time nanny like I used to because of worries about Covid infection from strangers," he said.

"We have him at home alone, and take turns to come home to have lunch and check on him".

He is among many parents in the city who worry about their children and their health as people return to office and kids remain at home without being vaccinated against Covid-19.

A student of Luong The Vinh Primary School in HCMCs District 7 has his online lesson. Photo courtesy of parents

A student of Luong The Vinh Primary School in HCMC's District 7 has his online lesson. Photo courtesy of parents

The city lifted its lockdown and allowed economic activities to resume on Oct. 1, and people have had to bid goodbye to working from home, but schools are yet to reopen.

In District 2, American Lucy Brown had an argument with her husband about whether they should hire a nanny to look after their two children.

"I do not want to hire a part-time nanny because we cannot let a stranger enter and leave our apartment every day. It is too risky amid Covid."

But her husband hates the idea of leaving the children alone and worrying about them constantly, which prevents him from focusing on work.

"Worrying about the children staying at home alone is better than worrying about them facing infection risks from strangers," she said.

Many public spaces have reopened, but people are chary about letting their children go out.

"My son and daughter keep telling me to take them to the park and mall, but I do not have the confidence to do it," Le Thuy Vi, 34, of Hoc Mon District said.

She and her husband have asked their employers to let them continue working from home so they can "mitigate all infection risks".

The Ministry of Health on Oct. 14 allowed Covid-19 vaccination for children aged 12-17, starting with those aged 16-17 and gradually working downward, and the HCMC Department of Health said vaccination would begin on Oct. 22.

But the city so far has had no detailed plan to vaccinate children.

No best option

As schools and daycare centers are still closed, most people have no choice but to try and continue working remotely or flexibly to care for their kids.

Nguyen Gia Bao, 36, a graphic designer living in District 7, was required to go back to office two weeks ago. But he asked his boss to let him work two days a week from home since he and his wife could not find anyone to look after their seven-year-old son.

"I will not get the full monthly lunch and gas allowances," he said.

His wife's company has allowed her to work from home for three days a week but also cut a portion of her salary.

Some take their children to office with them due to the nature of their work.

Lan Huong is an accountant working for a food processing company in Binh Tan District. Since she has to process lots of documents, she finds working from home a bit challenging and less efficient.

So for the past few weeks she has been taking her daughter to work, and gets her toys and coloring books so that she does not disturb others in office.

"It is a bit of a concern trying to keep everything running smoothly without neglecting my kid and my work responsibilities," she said.

She feels safe taking her daughter to the office since the majority of her colleagues are fully vaccinated.

Some people have decided to stop working temporarily and stay at home with their children to keep them safe from the coronavirus.

Nguyen Thi Hue, a worker at a textile firm in Binh Tan District, asked for a month’s leave when told to return to work on Oct. 1.

"I normally send them to a relative living nearby, but she in now busy with her two children, so I must stay at home," Hue, whose husband is a motorbike-taxi driver, said.

She hoped that when travel restrictions are lifted, her mother in Da Nang would come and help take care of her five-year-old son.

Bao, Huong and Hue all know that going to work on certain days, taking kids to work or quitting work cannot be a long-term solution.

But with schools not reopening until early next year and vaccination in limbo, they have little choice.

"I hope children can be vaccinated as soon as possible, so that they can venture out again after months of staying at home and looking at computer screens," Evans said while taking his son for a ride around their neighborhood one evening.

"He always wants to go to the mall and do some shopping, but I cannot allow that at the moment."

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