Early start to Tet exodus over pandemic fears

By Long Nguyen, The AnhFebruary 7, 2021 | 04:22 am PT
Early start to Tet exodus over pandemic fears
Saigon students wait in line to get on buses to return their hometowns in central Vietnam, February 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.
Fears of travel restrictions and other pandemic impacts have pushed many migrant workers and students to leave major cities early for the Tet holiday.

At 3 p.m. on February 5, Tran Nguyen Thuy Trang was supposed to be in her office in downtown Saigon. Instead she was at the Mien Dong (Eastern Region) Bus Station in Binh Thanh District, about to get a bus for Phu Yen Province.

The 28-year-old woman had booked a bus ticket for February 10, two days before the first day of the Lunar New Year, but she was worried that the latest, fast-spreading Covid-19 outbreak would derail her plans.

"I am afraid Saigon will have more Covid-19 infections and I will not be allowed go home for Tet, or they will ask me to quarantine myself before I can be with my family," Trang said on the phone as she waited for her bus.

Many other migrant workers in the southern metropolis were also at the bus terminal, worried eyes peering out from their masks.

For millions of migrants workers and students, Tet is the only opportunity to reunite with their family every year. Many are racing to get to their hometowns earlier this year because of worries over possible Covid-19 travel restrictions.

A student in Saigon sits in a bus headed for home in the central province of Quang Ngai, February 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

A student in Saigon sits in a bus headed for home in the central province of Quang Ngai, February 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.

This has meant that they have stopped working long before the holiday starts on February 10, rushing to bus and train stations as well as airports to get home.

"My flight is at 11 a.m., but I got to the airport five hours earlier because there are a lot of passengers and the waiting time could be long," said Nguyen Van Thuong, 36, on the morning of February 6.

The worker from Binh Tan District normally spends his last days before Tet buying gifts for his parents in the northern province of Vinh Phuc Province before setting out for home.

But this year, he asked for annual leave well before the holiday begins, ignoring bonuses and other events.

"I do not care about shopping or partying now. There is no (Covid-19) case in Vinh Phuc, but the situation in Hanoi, Hai Duong and Quang Ninh has become very complicated," Thuong said before departing with his four-member family.

Recently, some neighborhoods and areas in Saigon have been barricaded and isolated after some residents were identified to have come into close contact with confirmed Covid-19 patients.

Thuong, still worried about the pandemic and possible travel restrictions, is hoping the city will contain the outbreak successfully.

According to a representative of the Vietnam Airlines Group, traveling demand for Tet have gradually stabilized, with the number of purchased flight tickets reaching 80-95 percent of capacity on the HCMC-Hanoi route. More than 83 percent of available seats have been booked on other routes.

Other migrants yearning for home are in the process of wrapping up unfinished work and changing previously booked tickets to get home earlier.

Nguyen Tuan Viet, 30, decided to close his hair salon in Hanoi’s Long Bien District on February 7, three days earlier than scheduled, to go home to the central city of Da Nang.

"The days before Tet bring me the most business, but the new outbreak worries my staff and myself. We are worried about our chances of getting home on time," Viet said, adding, "money can be made later and home is always first."

Two of his employees from the central provinces of Thua Thien Hue and Khanh Hoa had already left on February 3.

Founded fears

There is good reason for workers and students to rush home early after the novel coronavirus has spread to 12 localities within ten days in the latest outbreak.

Many provinces and cities require people visiting their hometowns from Covid-19 hotspots to be quarantined for 14-21 days and be tested for the coronavirus.

Nguyen Thi Hoa, 49, said she was worried about being quarantined if a Covid-19 case was detected in the building she stays and works as a helper. The building is in Cau Giay District, where several Covid-19 cases have been confirmed. "So the earlier I go home, the better," Hoa said.

Hoa's daughter from Saigon had returned to Hai Phong on January 31 itself, soon after the new Covid-19 outbreak happened.

Thua Thien-Hue, Ha Tinh, Thanh Hoa, and Nam Dinh are among many localities that require all visitors from Quang Ninh, Hai Duong and pandemic-hit areas in Hanoi to be quarantined and undergo RT-PCR tests. Everyone coming from other localities need to make medical declarations.

As of Sunday, Vietnam's Covid-19 tally stood at 2,001, including 418 cases in the latest outbreak.

Hoa, wearing two layers of masks at the bus terminal, said: "I am lucky to be home before the Covid-19 outbreak gets more complicated."

"I will avoid infection risks and make health declarations to protect my family and neighbors, as long as I can see my family for the New Year."

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