Saigonese see lives upended amid Covid resurgence

By Dang Khoa, Long Nguyen   July 9, 2021 | 09:28 am GMT+7
Saigonese see lives upended amid Covid resurgence
Owner of a flower shop at a street market covers her wares with cloth and paper as HCMC decides to close all street markets to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, June 20, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.
HCMC residents have had their lives thrown into disarray after the city turned into the nation’s Covid-19 epicenter and the number of cases approached 10,000.

With another semi-lockdown starting this Friday, many residents of the southern metropolis are struggling to get the simplest daily activities done, including shopping and earning a living.

On Thursday afternoon, several hours before the 15-day semi-lockdown began, Nguyen Dang Nhat, resident of District 1, rushed to many supermarkets in town to buy some food for the weekend.

But all he saw were empty shelves.

"I have learnt that that the city will order food delivery services to stop. I know I will have to cook but now there is nothing left to buy. I have no idea what to do now," he said through two layers of masks and a face shield.

Millions of other HCMC residents share Nhat’s uncertainty, their lives upended by the latest Covid-19 wave.

The latest social distancing order, imposed as the city crossed 9,416 cases in the current outbreak, comprises the most stringent social distancing regulations, requiring residents to stay at home and only go out for necessities like buying food or medicines or to work at factories or businesses that are allowed to open.

The order had many people stockpiling consumer goods in the last few days.

When she learned about the social distancing order, Nguyen Tran Anh Thu quickly rushed to the supermarket closest to her house in District 10 to stock up food and supplies.

However, a long queue had already formed when she arrived.

The 53-year-old woman then filled out the health declaration form and quickly got in line, and few others joined the queue soon after. After 30 minutes, she wheeled out with a fully loaded shopping basket.

"There weren't good quality vegetables to choose from since others had picked the freshest ones already. But I still managed to get some cucumber and squash, which is convenient since they won't rot quickly," she said.

With the latest social distancing campaign suspending food and drink takeaways for 15 days, people also queued up in front of food retailers.

Le Viet Nga, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's domestic market department, said HCMC's neighboring provinces have been told to prepare for increasing supply to the city.

People wanting to leave Saigon wait in hours to have Covid-19 tests at HCMCs 175 Hospital, July 6, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

People wanting to leave Saigon wait for hours to have Covid-19 tests at HCMC's 175 Hospital, July 6, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Testing times

Meanwhile, many residents in HCMC and neighboring provinces are stressed out over getting tested for Covid-19, which has become mandatory for traveling.

Thanh Lan, a 36-year-old resident of Long An Province, had to take a break from work at Taiwanese-invested footwear maker Pouyuen Vietnam in HCMC's Binh Tan District to get tested as required by the local government.

She is one of 10,000 workers living in Long An who commute every day to work on the company's shuttle bus. They have to tested negative for Covid-19 if they want to go to HCMC and back to Long An the same day.

"I paid VND238,000 ($10.34) of my own money for the Covid-19 test. All I can do now is wait for the test results to know whether I can go to work or not," she said.

Starting this week, people from Saigon going to neighboring provinces like Dong Nai, Long An, and Binh Duong must present a negative test result for Covid-19.

Notably, everyone going from the city to other localities must self-isolate for seven days and monitor their own health for the succeeding week, the Health Ministry said Wednesday.

"Oh, if I have to stay at home, how can I go to Saigon every day to work and make money?" Lan asked.

Hours before the semi-lockdown came into force, many people tried to escape from HCMC and gateways to the southern provinces became congested.

But many were forced to turn around because they did not have a negative Covid-19 test result.

Carrying a load of furniture tied on the back seat, 39-year-old Nguyen Ngoc Minh Thai was disappointed that she could not return to the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang on Thursday.

"I thought the certificate of vaccination yesterday was enough for me to return to my hometown, so I didn't get tested," she said.

At the gateway linking HCMC and neighboring Binh Duong and Dong Nai provinces, an officer said that since Wednesday afternoon, the number of people from HCMC passing through the checkpoint had increased significantly, with many heading to Dong Nai, Binh Thuan, Nha Trang, Lam Dong and other localities.

On the opposite side, there were just a few cars heading into HCMC, the officer added.

Scared of hospitals

Many people, especially the elderly, do not dare to go to hospitals for regular health checks these days, fearful of getting infected with the novel coronavirus.

In Binh Tan District, a Covid-19 hotspot, Nguyen Thi Luong has not visited the hospital for diabetes check up since May.

"Since I don’t go to the hospital, I must buy medicines from other stores. It is more expensive but I must accept it. Hospitals are the last place I want to go to now, too dangerous," she said, adding that she had also avoided hospitals last year during the nationwide social distancing campaign in April.

Meanwhile, her husband, an Alzheimer's patient, who was due to have a surgery in May canceled it due to worries over coronavirus.

In the last few weeks, many medical facilities across the city have been hit by Covid-19, with their staff or visiting patients testing positive, forcing them to halt operations.

Notably, the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases in District 5, the city's frontline facility in the Covid-19 fight, was under lockdown after emerging as a coronavirus hotspot.

"I hope my blood sugar level and my husband's health will be alright till we can visit hospitals again. This is so inconvenient and scary," Luong said with a sigh.

For many people, staying at home for too long has created its own difficulties.

"I know it is selfish to say this, but I am tired of staying at home all day. I want to go to coffee shops or gyms," said IT programmer Le Hoang Ha, who also said that he and his wife quarreled more when they were cooped up.

Luong also said she and her husband, both in their 60s, were having "quarantine quarrels."

"I want to go out to jog or even to shop at a nearby wet market. But such activities are impossible due to this virus, it makes me feel useless and bored," she lamented.

Many workers like motorbike taxi drivers, lottery ticket vendors, earning significantly less amid the pandemic, are hit harder by the new semi-lockdown.

Starting Friday, HCMC halts all lottery services, either via retailers or street vendors, as well as food and drink takeaways and motorcycle taxi services, traditional or ride-hailing, for 15 days.

"I do not know what to say, this virus is cruel," said Le Thanh Sang, a motorbike taxi driver in District 11.

After losing his job at a local glue manufacturer last year, Sang has worked as a motorbike taxi driver for eight months, earning around VND5 million ($217.35) per month.

"Now the Covid nightmare begins," he said, tears in his eyes.

People leave Saigon hours before the semi-lockdown. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

People leave Saigon hours before the semi-lockdown comes into force. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

'No pain, no cure'

Most Saigonese are hoping that the 15-day semi-lockdown will "cure" the "Covid fever" in their city.

"I am tired and scared, but I will strictly follow prevention rules and avoid going out to help Saigon be free of Covid," Luong said.

Many other people also said they would follow the rules and support those in need to overcome the current Covid nightmare "for a healthy Saigon."

In the next 15 days, people must wear face masks when going out and keep a distance of at least two meters. No more than two people can gather in public apart from workplaces, schools, or hospitals.

The majority of public transportation will be shut down, and there will be no travel to other localities.

The city also asked the Department of Transport to propose to the Ministry of Transport that air and rail transport services to and from HCMC are restricted or suspended.

"No pain no cure, my life has been turned upside down for a year because of the pandemic. But I can withstand a little more, for my Saigon," said Nhat, the District 1 resident.

 
 
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