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Hanoians tread warily despite lifting of Covid restrictions

By Long Nguyen   June 24, 2021 | 09:12 pm PT
While Hanoi has relaxed some of its Covid-19 restrictions, people remain wary of its threat and resurgence elsewhere in the country.

Three days after Hanoi allowed restaurants to reopen, Tran Thi Thu Trang and her family have not dared visit their favorite hotspot restaurant for dinner.

"I am worried that crowds and public places pose an infection risk, so we have so far stuck to eating at home," the 45-year-old banker said.

She has not gone out for lunch with colleagues either since the fourth wave of Covid started in late April.

She also canceled a trip to her hometown in Yen Bai Province for her father’s death anniversary, saying staying at home is the best option amid the continuing threat of Covid.

She is among many people in Hanoi who have cautiously welcomed back normalcy after the city eased Covid restrictions even as the pandemic has resurged in some places around the country.

A customer has a haircut at a barbershop on Hanois Nguyen Hong Street on June 22, 2021 Photo by VnExpress/The Quynh.

A customer has a haircut at a barbershop on Hanoi's Nguyen Hong Street on June 22, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/The Quynh.

Many continue to avoid public spaces and scrupulously adopt preventive measures though restaurants, coffee shops and barbershops are now open to customers.

Despite yearning to have her hair cut and dyed for the summer holiday, Nguyen Thu Quynh, an accountant at a paper manufacturing company in Long Bien District, has no plans to visit her hair salon in the next few weeks.

"The Delta variant is more transmittable and many neighboring provinces are still struggling with it, and so I am not at ease among strangers now," she said.

Her husband said their family canceled a proposed trip to Ha Long Bay next week to the great disappointment of their children.

"No one is in the mood for a holiday amid this raging outbreak."

Nguyen Thu Trang, owner of a fish noodles restaurant on Tran Hung Dao Street, said she was surprised to sell out within two hours on Tuesday, the first day of reopening. But the number of eaters has gradually decreased in the last few days, she added.

Many restaurant owners, who fear that the city might face another outbreak and require them to close again, have not stocked up on ingredients like they used to.

Most of them have followed Covid prevention rules, placing plastic dividers between tables and bottles of hand sanitizers for customers’ use.

"Both business owners like me and customers know that we are not totally safe from the coronavirus," Trang said while cleaning tables and plastic dividers with alcohol. She washes utensils with hot water "to kill the virus," she said.

Some companies have started allowing staff to return to office after weeks of working from home, but with preventive measures in place.

A tech company in Cau Giay District has told its employees to take turns to come to work, "making sure those working on Monday do not meet those working on Tuesday" to reduce the risk of infection spread. The staff are required to make a health declaration every day.

Buildings in the capital still require people to have their temperature checked, sanitize their hands and wear face masks when entering.

The Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square in Hanoi amid the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

The Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square in Hanoi amid the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Too early to ease

The reason Hanoians are uneasy despite the relaxation of restrictions is the resurgence of the pandemic in other places like neighboring Bac Ninh and Bac Giang Provinces and Ho Chi Minh City.

As of Friday morning Vietnam had a case load of 11,014 in the new wave that started on April 27. Bac Giang continued to lead with 5,528 infections, followed by HCMC with 2,293 and Bac Ninh with 1,556.

In June, after the number of infections began to rise alarmingly in HCMC, airlines were only allowed to operate 63 flights a day to and from its Tan Son Nhat Airport. Before the fourth wave began, hundreds of flights were operating.

Realizing the infection threat posed by those traveling from coronavirus-hit areas like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi authorities perform Covid tests on them at the Noi Bai International Airport, require them to fill in a health declaration form and isolate themselves at home.

Nguyen Thi Anh Tuyet of Long Bien District said worriedly: "There are three Saigon returnees in my neighborhood; I think it is too early to be at ease."

Many people are worried that people coming from Covid-19 hotspots, which are struggling with a more transmittable variant, are living in their communities and will accidentally spread the virus.

On Facebook, many people express these fears and call for a halt to flights from HCMC.

Last week Hanoi authorities were tracing people on a flight from HCMC after a woman passenger tested positive.

"Hanoi is not safe from this virus until other localities, especially HCMC, is safe," Tuyet said.

While allowing restaurants and barbershops to open, the city requires them to abide by prevention measures like not allowing large numbers of people, maintaining social distance and putting up screens between tables.

Sidewalk food stalls are still not allowed to open, and bars, pubs, and beer places can only sell takeout.

Tran Dac Phu, former head of the General Department of Preventive Medicine, warned last Saturday that outbreaks were still occurring in the country, and Hanoi could still be harboring infections within the community.

"The reopening needs to be done carefully with strict supervision, or we will be back to square one."

Many Hanoians, learning from the previous outbreaks, know they are still far from so-called normalcy.

"I check the news every to see the daily number of new Covid-19 cases in the country, and the three-digit numbers always scare me," Trang said.

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