Saigonese eagerly await return to normal life

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenSeptember 30, 2021 | 05:00 pm PT
Relief and excitement. These are the two emotions most Saigonese feel as the stringent Covid-19 lockdown comes to an end.

When the barricade at the entrance to her alley off Cach Mang Thang Tam Street in Ho Chi Minh City was removed earlier this week, Nguyen Quynh Nhi wore a mask and walked outside to check out the streets after a month-long lockdown.

It was the first time she had been outside since early August when she had her first Covid vaccine.

Some of her friends have made appointments with hairdressers or plan to hang out in the coming weeks, but the 27-year-old accountant has no interest in meeting people even after the city removes checkpoints and barriers and does away with travel permits.

"I am thrilled to see barriers and travel restrictions go away, but I know the pandemic is not going anywhere," she says.

Many Saigonese are similarly cautious as the city ends the lockdown on September 30, allowing many businesses to reopen and people to go out without travel permits.

Local police remove a barrier on Binh Thanh Districts No Trang Long Street. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van

Local police remove a barrier on Binh Thanh District's No Trang Long Street. Photo by VnExpress/Dinh Van

Except for some sectors considered as posing high Covid infection risk, most public and private production and service facilities in HCMC are allowed to reopen from Friday.

HCMC previously went through more than 120 days under many different levels of social distancing.

Since the fourth Covid-19 wave hit Vietnam in late April, the city has recorded nearly 388,700 infections, accounting for almost half of the national tally, and 14,718 have died.

Over 95 percent of its adult population have received one Covid-19 vaccine shot, and 45 percent fully vaccinated.

"I will order groceries and food from online services, the reopening does not mean the end of Covid," Nguyen Hoang Thi Nhan, a housewife in District 5, says.

She will not let her 12-year-old son visit his dentist to check his braces though he has missed four monthly appointments already.

"Kids are not eligible for vaccination; they are the most vulnerable."

Nguyen Thi Dai of Binh Tan District says while she and her husband will resume jogging in the mornings this weekend, "That will be the only outdoor activity that we feel confident about.

"I am thrilled to be allowed to go out after months of being cooped up."

Many companies are also cautious, and plan to keep their employees at home, only allowing those fully vaccinated to return to office.

A human resources firm on Dinh Tien Hoang Street in District 1 plans to instruct all its fully vaccinated workers to come to work in turns starting next week. For three months everyone had been working remotely.

"They will have to make a health declaration before entering the office, those who have not been fully vaccinated must stay at home until they have their second shot," Le Thu Uyen, the company’s HR officer, said.

Many others plan to watch the situation before deciding whether their employees should return to the office in the coming weeks.

Nguyen Trai Street after Covid-19 checkpoints were removed, September 30, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Nguyen Trai Street after Covid-19 checkpoints were removed, September 30, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Sigh of relief

After four months of social distancing of various intensities, the reopening of the economy and lifting of blockades have caused people to heave a sigh of relief.

When Tran Thi Thanh Vi saw local officials remove barriers from her alley on Monday she was delighted.

She pulled out her phone to capture that moment and posted the photo on her family chat group to "share the happiness of the city’s reopening."

"It is a positive sign. Our alley feels less stuffy after the barricades were removed."

On Thursday afternoon she ordered milk tea for the whole family and enjoyed the "convenience" of having goods delivered right at their front door instead of having to drive to the alley entrance to get them.

Many people feel similarly glad as the plethora of photos of unbarricaded neighborhoods on social networks show as authorities go about dismantling barriers across the city.

Over the past few months, as HCMC grappled with a severe wave of Covid, barriers were put up at over 900 streets.

Starting Friday, all inner-city checkpoints will be removed but the city police will maintain patrols to ensure safety, the city's chairman Le Hoa Binh said at a meeting held Thursday morning to roll out plan on easing Covid-19 restrictions in the southern metropolis from Oct.1.

Many people looking forward to normalcy to earn money.

Truong Son, 42, a dentist in District 3, says he heaved "a huge sigh of relief" after hearing he can reopen his clinic.

He says he plans to spend the weekend cleaning it and open on Monday, and adds he will only accept fully vaccinated patients.

Many people working in the services sector pin their hopes on the "new normalcy" though they themselves have to wait a bit longer before their businesses are allowed to reopen.

"I think it is good that the city steps into the post-lockdown era slowly, step by step", Nhi, a receptionist at a gym in District 10, says.

"[This way] everyone can be safe and all of us can go to work again".

She says she will wake up early this weekend and drive around the city though avoiding crowded places and coming into close contact with others "to see the streets and the return of vibrancy to Saigon.

"I hope the woman selling banh mi on To Hien Thanh Street, the man selling fruits on Thanh Thai and other street vendors will resume their business soon.

"They are a part of this bustling city."

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