Life convulsed as coronavirus grips Hanoi

By Long Nguyen   March 10, 2020 | 05:21 pm PT
As fears over the coronavirus return to haunt Hanoians, households and companies are shaken anew.

Tran Thanh Mai, 29, texted her friends on the evening of March 9, saying her wedding would be canceled.

"I don’t know when it will happen since the coronavirus keeps biting at our heels," she said with a sigh.

One week prior, the reporter from Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District had sent invitations to all her friends and colleagues, thinking the epidemic was over.

Everything changed last Friday when Hanoi’s first Covid-19 infection was confirmed after Vietnam had enjoyed 22 days with no new reports.

At the time, Mai and her family were preparing for her engagement party, which happened last Saturday, with "many too occupied with fear to join the celebrations."

Mai and a million others, whose lives were returning to normal, faces another disruption to their family and office life amid spreading fears over the new coronavirus.

Hanoians are watiting to buy masks at a store in Hai Ba Trung Street on March 7, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/An Giang.

Hanoians queue to buy masks at a store on Minh Khai Street, Hai Ba Trung District, on March 7, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/An Giang.

Nguyen Thu Yen, 43, residing on Cua Bac Street, is one of them. After learning about the 17th Covid-19 infection in Hanoi, she rushed to stock up on groceries at night.

"I live near Truc Bach Street (where Hanoi's first Covid-19 patient resides) and don’t know what would happen in the next few days or whether my boss would ask me to stay home," Yen told a friend last Friday night.

Like Yen, thousands of urbanites commenced panic buying, posing a risk with gathering crowds facilitating the spread of the virus.

Big supermarkets in Hanoi have been forced to double up on stock to meet Covid-19 induced demand.

While empty shelves were quickly filled with food and other necessities, masks and hand sanitizer remain scarce.

"We have some masks at home, but I want to make sure we don’t run out," said Nguyen Hoang Cong, 42, taking a day off on Monday to shop.

Besides the demand for everyday items, many travel and party plans have been scuppered thanks to the virus.

Nguyen Xuan Chinh, 37, decided to cancel his daughter’s birthday party next week and his business trip to central Da Nang City the following week.

"I would rather stay at home and away from public spaces," Chinh said after he stopped his church visits last Sunday.

Others have spent their time cleaning their homes amid virus concerns.

"Who knows whether the virus would linger and whether those we meet are infected," said Tran Thi Thu Anh, 48, while changing her bedsheets and opening her bedroom windows wide on Saturday.

She spent last weekend cleaning her apartment and husband’s car, used for ride-sharing. Hitting a supermarket nearby to buy some food and mouthwash, she tried her best to avoid strangers.

Fears over the novel coronavirus are not only shaking households in Hanoi but also numerous companies and offices, where hundreds of employees pose a greater risk of infection.

Watch your steps

With the number of Covid-19 infections in Vietnam spiraling over the weekend, several companies in the capital required their workforce to follow prevention measures and disinfect their working stations.

Truong Hong Thuy, HR officer at a paper-producing company in Long Bien District, asked all her 400 employees to fill out health declaration forms before the following Sunday.

A medical worker on foot disinfected every nook and cranny of nearby streets on March 7, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

A medical worker disinfects every nook and cranny of  a street near Truc Bach Street on March 7, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

"We discovered two people to have visited Truc Bach Street and one to have attended Hong Ngoc Hospital (where Hanoi's first Covid-19 patient was admitted to) last week. They were all asked to enter self-quarantine," Thuy said Monday, while awaiting a medical team to sanitize the office and factory space.

She subsequently notified each department, recommending workers to avoid gathering, talking in elevators and to go home directly from work.

Some firms have ramped up their protection to the highest level, including Electricity Vietnam (EVN) on Cua Bac Street, less than a kilometer from Truc Bach. Before entering the company’s premises, employees have to undergo body temperature checks, sanitize their hands and don masks.

Meanwhile, a tech firm on Lang Ha Street has required all staff having traveled or experiencing symptoms like fever, coughing, or even a tickling throat to work from home.

Last weekend was the final straw for many local stores and restaurants now forced to close after a month of little business.

Many coffee shops or spas have halted operations as "loyal clients stay indoors and new clients are scared off by the coronavirus," said Hoang Minh, who closed his hair salon on Quan Thanh Street last Monday.

Previously, his staff all wore plastic gloves and routinely sanitized brushes, scissors and combs after every use.

Vietnam confirmed its 17th infection on Friday after 22 straight days without any new reports. The patient had traveled to the U.K., Italy and France before returning to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines flight VN0054.

As of Tuesday, there were 18 new cases reported in the country, including four in Hanoi, taking the total to 34.

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