Hanoi in the early days of relaxed social distancing

By Pham Nga   September 20, 2021 | 02:26 am PT
Seeing his district is one of 19 low-risk Covid districts with eased restrictions, Tran Van Tung immediately thought of getting his broken washing machine fixed.

"It is miserable when having a newborn baby without a working washing machine at home," said the 32-year-old father of a 10-day-old son.

Tung from Bac Tu Liem District couldn't ask the shop to send over a repairman to fix the machine since everyone was ordered to "stay where they are."

Since July 24, Hanoi has been following social distancing according to Directive 16, which comprises the country’s most stringent social distancing regulations, requiring residents to stay at home and only go out for basic necessities such as buying food or medicines or to work at factories or businesses that are allowed to open.

So Tung had to video call a friend asking for help. After the online "examination," his friend guessed the machine's touch screen had grown damp and instructed Tung to use a hair dryer to dry the control board. But the machine still didn't work.

Looking at the pile of diapers and clothes of his new-born son, Tung was in distress. Without a choice, he washed them by hand, and attempted to dry them with the fan.

"For the past week, I’ve mainly went from the bedroom to the bathroom to do laundry, then to the kitchen to cook," Tung lamented.

Cars and motorbikes swarm Nguyen Xien Street in Thanh Xuan District on September 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Cars and motorbikes swarm Nguyen Xien Street in Thanh Xuan District, Sept. 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Tung and his wife were happy last Wednesday evening after hearing the news Hanoi authorities would ease social distancing measures in their district the next day while a number of professions and services, including repair of household appliances, would resume.

He was jumping for joy when he saw the washing machine working after being repaired by a friend.

Last Thursday noon, 19 districts in Hanoi were allowed to reopen several businesses including food and beverage establishments, stationery stores selling office supplies and books, garages that repair vehicles and those that sell and repair electrical appliances.

Food and beverage services can only sell takeaways and must close before 9 p.m. daily.

The eased social distancing measures also allowed Le Hoang, 31, to reunite with his wife and son half-a-month after his company implemented a stay-at-work regime.

"I miss my wife and son. At the company, I had to lay a mat on the floor to sleep. I am very happy thinking about going home to sleep on my bed," said the construction engineer.

During social distancing, Minh Ha couldn't visit her mother for nearly two months, even though they live no more than five kilometers apart.

"My mother is often sick and lacks mental clarity. In the past, my sisters and I would take turns visiting her every day," said the 38-year-old woman from Nam Tu Liem District.

Her impatience reached the limit after she heard the electrical system in her mother's house had broken down. In addition, she had fallen, causing bleeding to her ear.

She was relieved of her burden thanks to the restoration of electrical repair services and the reconnection of power lines in her mother's house after two days of paralysis.

"After days of social distancing, now I see that many simple things that I've taken for granted are extremely valuable," she said.

Last Friday morning, Mai, 45, a resident of Com Vong Street, stood in front of her door to supervise the workers setting up a new sign for her noodle shop.

After a few months of closure, the old signboard had faded. She has all but run out of money since she still has to pay a monthly rent of more than VND20 million (around $873).

"Just hearing that eateries could reopen makes me feel happy although I don't know how long venues could stay open," she said.

Workers prepare to hang up the menu sign of Mais pho venue on September 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

Workers prepare to hang the menu sign of Mai's pho shop, Sept. 17, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Nga

She spent the entire afternoon cleaning and buying ingredients. When her shop opened the following day, only 20 bowls of pho were sold, though she believes business would pick up in the next few days.

On the way back, Le Hoang messaged his wife that he would buy roasted duck so she doesn't have to cook dinner. That night, they let their son go to the supermarket for the first time in ages.

"It's been a long time since we let him go outside, so he kept talking and pointing here and there like the first time he went out onto the street," he said.

However, Hoang still feels anxious and insecure.

Previously on Thursday, the Hanoi police department said 39 Covid-19 checkpoints across the city had been removed as the city started to ease restrictions though social distance regulations remain.

However, in the past four days, people have poured into the streets, with many stores not allowed to operate opening their doors.

The capital has recorded 4,157 Covid-19 cases in the fourth wave starting April 27, with 20 added Sunday.

"The subjective, relaxed mentality to compensate for the few months of social distancing has appeared in many people's mind. At the checkout counter, people did not keep a safe distance when lining up but stood close together. I am really worried that more people will be infected, placing the city under semi-lockdown again," Hoang said.

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